A man fighting to stop his infertile ex-wife from having children using their frozen embryos testified Tuesday that he felt “stepped on and run over” during their marriage and feared having to parent a child with her.
Stephen Findley, a wealthy executive with an investment company, said Dr. Mimi Lee, his ex-wife, once put a dollar value on the embryos during a conversation about their divorce and joint assets.
Testifying at a trial in San Francisco Superior Court, Findley said Lee, an anesthesiologist, told him she was offended by “the amount” he had mentioned during the discussion of their assets. She then raised the subject of the embryos, he said.
"'How much are they worth?’” he quoted her as saying. “`So do I get $1 million for them, $2 million for them or for each one?’”
Findley said those remarks left him “sick to my stomach.”
Findley and Lee’s divorce was final in April, but a judge must still decide the fate of five frozen embryos. The couple created them when Lee learned she had breast cancer during their engagement.
Although the pair had wanted children and stopped using birth control when they were engaged, the cancer diagnosis made pregnancy unwise. Findley said they were advised that a drug Lee would have to take could harm a fetus.
Lee has said the embryos are her only chance now of having a genetic child. Findley has argued that she is bound by a written directive the couple signed at a fertility clinic calling for the embryos to be destroyed in the event of a divorce.
Findley, thin and pale and on crutches because of foot injury, told the court that Lee once asked him to give her have the condominium they had purchased on Nob Hill with mutual funds.
"`You have more money than me, and isn’t there a way you can just give me the condo so I can live there?’” he said she asked.
He told her that was a matter for their lawyers to discuss, he said.
“`You know at some point, if we have kids from these embryos you should be worried what I will say to them if you are not generous,’” he quoted her as saying.
Findley testified he did not want children outside of marriage. He said he wasn’t worried that he would have to pay child support. If he had a biological child, he would want to support that child financially and spend as much time as possible with him or her, he said.
“My concern would be that I fear Mimi would manipulate the situation to extract money from me for other purposes,” he testified.
“What feels fair to me is not what feels fair to her,” he said.
Under cross-examination, Findley admitted he was “detail oriented” and careful with his money. Although he had testified he never wanted another conversation with Lee, Findley acknowledged that he had emailed her a request for a referral to a surgeon for his foot injury after the divorce.
The couple met at Harvard when they were in college and remained friends for two decades before marrying. While they were dating, Lee was equivocal on the subject of children, he said.
“`Maybe life is simpler just having a dog…’” he testified she told him. “`We could travel a lot. We have nieces and nephews.’”
Lee cried during his testimony, reaching for a tissue when he described her call to him in 2010 saying she had cancer. He asked her for a divorce in 2013, saying he felt “stepped on and run over.”
Tuesday was Findley’s second day on the stand. Lee is expected to testify Wednesday, and the trial is expected to wrap up by Friday.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo will rule on the fate of embryos, and the losing side is expected to appeal. Lawyers in the case anticipate the judge will take several weeks before issuing a written decision.
The disposition of embryos in such cases is a matter of state law, but California courts have not yet clarified the rules.
In other cases, the party opposing procreation has generally prevailed.
Two exceptions involved infertile women who had cancer and whose only chance at procreation involved frozen embryos.