IVF Procedure: Alabama Varsity Pauses Care Over Court Ruling

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  • Frozen embryos considered ‘children’

A medical school in Alabama has paused in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures in the wake of the first-of-its-kind decision made by the State’s Supreme Court, which ruled that frozen embryos are “children”.

According to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the Court ruling could expose doctors and patients to criminal charges

Following the Alabama’s supreme court ruling that embryos are ‘extrauterine children’, the decision has been widely considered as one that would have serious implications for people seeking IVF or other assisted reproductive technology treatments.

On Wednesday, Spokesperson Savannah Koplon said on behalf of the University of Alabama at Birmingham that the institution was “saddened that this will impact our patients’ attempt to have a baby through IVF, but we must evaluate the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for IVF treatments”.

“The UAB Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility has paused in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments as it evaluates the Alabama supreme court’s decision that a cryopreserved embryo is a human being,” a statement said.

Also, the statement emphasized that solely IVF treatment is paused by the research university and academic medical center that is also the largest healthcare provider in Alabama.

The University that notably houses a division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility further said in the statement thus; “Everything through egg retrieval remains in place. Egg fertilization and embryo development is paused”.

Typically, IVF involves medical providers administering medication to a patient to stimulate ovaries to produce multiple eggs. Those eggs are then extracted, fertilized with sperm to create embryos and then either implanted in the patient’s uterus or frozen for future use.

In the recently released Court’s decision, two wrongful death suits were allowed to proceed against a Mobile fertility clinic, in effect ruling that fertilized eggs and embryos are “children”.

The lawsuits relate to a 2021 incident during which a patient at Mobile’s Center for Reproductive Medicine entered the clinic’s cryogenic nursery and removed several embryos. The lawsuit claimed that the “subzero temperatures at which the embryos had been stored freeze-burned the patient’s hand, causing the patient to drop the embryos on the floor, killing them”.

While the three couples who lost frozen embryos sued for wrongful death, the clinic claimed that Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act did not apply to embryos outside of a womb. In agreement with that argument, the Mobile county circuit court judge Jill Parrish Phillips ruled to dismiss the case, but eight judges on Alabama’s Supreme Court overturned that ruling.

The Alabama Supreme Court Justice Jay Mitchell insisted that embryos were protected under the state’s existing law.

“The central question presented in these consolidated appeals, which involve the death of embryos kept in a cryogenic nursery, is whether the act contains an unwritten exception to that rule for extrauterine children – that is, unborn children who are located outside of a biological uterus at the time they are killed,” he wrote. “Under existing black-letter law, the answer to that question is no: the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location.”

Mitchell went on to call the act “sweeping and unqualified”, noting that “it applies to all children, born and unborn, without limitation. It is not the role of this Court to craft a new limitation based on our own view of what is or is not wise public policy. That is especially true where, as here, the People of this State have adopted a Constitutional amendment directly aimed at stopping courts from excluding ‘unborn life’ from legal protection.”

In the wake of the ruling, Alabama patients looking to become parents have expressed concern about their existing embryos. Dr Mamie McLean, who provides IVF as part of her work as an OB-GYN at Alabama Fertility, which has three locations in the state, said on Wednesday: “They’re worried about what to do with their frozen embryos. They want to be the ones who make the decisions on how best to utilize their embryos – not the supreme court. Frankly, because of the lack of guidance, we don’t know exactly how this translates to our care.”

After UAB issued their pause, Barbara Collura, the president and CEO of Resolve: The National Infertility Association and leader of the organization’s Fight for Families Campaign, issued a statement expressing how “absolutely heartbroken” Resolve is “for the Alabama family building community”.

“The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) health system – the largest healthcare system in the state – has been forced to make an impossible decision: pause IVF procedures for those hoping to build their families, or put their patients and doctors at risk of prosecution,” Collura said.

“For those living with infertility and trying to build a family, a ‘normal’ IVF cycle is hard enough. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who are right now in the middle of a physically and emotionally challenging medical process to fulfill their dream of a baby. Would-be parents have invested their hearts, time and financial resources.

“Now, less than a week after the Alabama Supreme Court’s devastating ruling, Alabamans in the midst of seeking treatment have had their lives, their hopes and dreams crushed.

“This cruel ruling, and the subsequent decision by UAB’s health system, are horrifying signals of what’s to come across the country. We will continue to fight to maintain and increase access to care for the one in 6 adults nationwide who struggle with infertility.” – With The Guardian report

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