Thursday, July 25

Alabama rules frozen embryos as babies, raising questions about fertility treatment

The Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that frozen test-tube embryos should be considered babies sent shockwaves through the world of reproductive medicine, raising questions about fertility care for intended parents in the state and raising complex legal questions with implications that extend far beyond Alabama. .

On Tuesday, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said the ruling would cause “exactly the kind of chaos we expected when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and paved the way for politicians to dictate some of the most personal decisions families can make.”

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One as President Biden traveled to California, Ms. Jean-Pierre reiterated the Biden administration’s call for Congress to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law.

“Let us remember that this is the same state whose attorney general has threatened to prosecute people who help women travel out of state to seek the care they need,” he said, referring to Alabama, which has begun imposing a total ban on abortion in June 2022.

The justices issued the ruling Friday in appeals filed by couples whose embryos were destroyed in 2020, when a hospital patient removed frozen embryos from liquid nitrogen tanks in Mobile and dropped them on the floor.

Citing anti-abortion language in the state constitution, the justices’ majority opinion said an 1872 statute allowing parents to sue for the wrongful death of a minor child applies to unborn children, without exception for “extrauterine children”.

“Even before birth, all human beings have the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without obliterating His glory,” Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote in a concurring opinion, citing scripture.

Infertility specialists and legal experts said the ruling has potentially profound effects, which should concern every American who may need to access reproductive services such as in vitro fertilization.

One in six families is struggling with infertility, according to Barbara Collura, president and CEO of Resolve, which represents the interests of infertility patients.

“You changed the status of a microscopic group of cells to become a person or a child,” Ms. Collura said. “They didn’t say that in vitro fertilization is illegal, and they didn’t say that you can’t freeze embryos. It’s even worse: there is no road map.”

It has become standard medical protocol during IVF to extract as many eggs as possible from a woman, then fertilize them to create embryos before freezing them. Generally, only one embryo is transferred into the uterus at a time to maximize the chances of successful implantation and a full-term pregnancy.

“But what if we can’t freeze them?” asked Mrs. Collura. “Are we going to hold people criminally accountable because you can’t freeze a ‘person’? This opens up many questions.”

Reproductive medicine scientists also criticized the ruling, saying it was a “medically and scientifically unsound decision.”

“The court held that a fertilized egg frozen in the freezer of a fertility clinic should be treated as the legal equivalent of an existing child or gestating fetus in the womb,” said Dr. Paula Amato, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

“Science and everyday common sense tell us that this is not the case,” he said. Even in the natural world, he added, several eggs are often fertilized before one successfully implants in the uterus and results in a pregnancy.

Dr. Amato predicted that young doctors would stop coming to Alabama to train or practice medicine in the aftermath of the ruling, and that doctors would close fertility clinics in the state if operating them meant running the risk of being educated in civil or criminal sphere. expenses.

“Modern fertility treatments will not be available to the people of Alabama,” Dr. Amato predicted.

Couples in the midst of grueling and expensive infertility treatments in Alabama said they were overwhelmed with questions and worries, and some said they feared their providers would be forced to close their clinics.

Megan Legerski, 37, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., who is currently undergoing infertility treatment, said she recently became pregnant after being implanted with an embryo created through in vitro fertilization, but miscarried after eight weeks.

She and her partner have three more frozen embryos they can implant, she said.

“To me the embryos represent our best chance of having children and we are extremely hopeful,” Ms Legerski said. “But having three embryos in the freezer for me is not the same as having one that implants and becomes a pregnancy, and it’s not the same as having a child.

“We have three embryos. We don’t have three children.”

Katie Rogers contributed reporting from Washington.