The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled unanimously [opinion, PDF] Monday in Astrue v. Capato [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that children conceived by in vitro fertilization (IVF) [Medline backgrounder] after a parent's death are not entitled to that parent's social security benefits. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg announced the decision, which agreed with the Social Security Administration (SSA) [official website] that an IVF child conceived after death could only inherit benefits if guaranteed by state intestacy law:
Just as the Act generally refers to state law to determine whether an applicant qualifies as a wife, widow, husband, widower, child or parent, so in several sections, the [Social Security Act] sets duration-of-relationship limitations. Time limits also qualify the statutes of several States that accord inheritance rights to posthumously conceived children. No time constraints attend the Third Circuit's ruling in this case, under which the biological child of married parents is eligible for survivors benefits, no matter the length of time between the father's death and the child's conception and birth. The paths to receipt of benefits laid out in the Act and regulations, we must not forget, proceed from Congress' perception of the core purpose of the legislation. The aim was not to create a program "generally benefiting needy persons"; it was, more particularly, to "provide ... dependent members of [a wage earner's] family with protection against the hardship occasioned by [the] loss of [the insured's] earnings." We have recognized that "where state intestacy law provides that a child may take personal property from a father's estate, it may reasonably be thought that the child will more likely be dependent during the parent's life and at his death." Reliance on state intestacy law to determine who is a "child" thus serves the Act's driving objective.The court overturned [opinion text] the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Other circuits made rulings similar to the Supreme Court [JURIST report] on the issue.
The Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case in November and heard oral arguments [JURIST reports] in March. Karen Capato gave birth to twins conceived through IVF using her late husband's frozen sperm, nearly two years after he died of cancer. The Capato family argued that the federal definition "child" made clear that children conceived via IVF should be allowed to receive social security benefits, because the SSA must rely on the objective standard of "child" under Title II of the Social Security Act [42 USC § 401 et seq.].