News (USA)

Three clinics halt IVF treatment because embryos are now considered “children” in the state

IVF happening in a lab
Photo: Shutterstock

At least three providers of fertility healthcare in Alabama, including the largest healthcare provider in the state, have halted in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment following the state’s Supreme Court’s unprecedented ruling last week declaring that embryos have the same legal rights as children.

The decision leaves LGBTQ+ couples, single people, and those who struggle with fertility issues with dwindling access to the most common method of assisted reproduction.

Last Friday, the court ruled that state laws protecting “unborn children” also apply to those “located outside of a biological uterus.” The decision opens the door for doctors to be charged with murder if they mishandle or mistakenly destroy an embryo. The court acknowledged that its ruling effectively ends IVF treatment in Alabama.

“No rational medical provider would continue to provide services for creating and maintaining frozen embryos knowing that they must continue to maintain such frozen embryos forever or risk the penalty of a Wrongful Death Act claim for punitive damages,” Justice James L. Mitchell wrote in his 131-page opinion.

On Wednesday, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), the state’s largest healthcare provider, announced that it would pause IVF treatments.

“We are saddened that this will impact our patients’ attempt to have a baby through IVF,” a spokesperson for the university said, “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.”

On Thursday, two more clinics made similar announcements.

“We have made the impossibly difficult decision to hold new IVF treatments due to the legal risk to our clinic and our embryologists,” Alabama Fertility said in an Instagram post. “We are contacting patients that will be affected today to find solutions for them and we are working as hard as we can to alert our legislators as to the far-reaching negative impact of this ruling on the women of Alabama.”

The clinic vowed not to close. “We will continue to fight for our patients and the families of Alabama,” its post read.

Alabama Fertility doctor Michael C. Allemand told The Guardian that he was unsure how many patients would be affected by the decision. He said the clinic has been consulting with legal and medical experts to determine how to move forward.

“‘What is the risk?’ is really the operative question. We know there’s civil liability, but is there criminal liability?” Allemand said. “We’re not going to give substandard care. So we have to decide if that’s doable, with our partners and experts that we’re working with, to design a system here and a practice that lets us do that.”

On Thursday, the clinic at the center of the lawsuit that led to the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision also said it would pause IVF treatment beginning on Saturday. Mark Nix, CEO of Infirmary Health, which includes the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Mobile Infirmary, told NBC News that the not-for-profit health system “understand[s] the burden this places on deserving families who want to bring babies into this world.”

According to NBC News, other clinics in the state are continuing to provide IVF treatment in the hopes that legal issues around the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision will be resolved in their favor.

Dr. Brett Davenport of the Fertility Institute of North Alabama said he sees no reason for the practice to pause IVF treatment. “I have been working hard on adjusting our consent forms so that we can have a discussion with the patients who are now going through IVF or about to have an embryo transfer to where they now are aware of this law, they’re aware of the implications,” he said.

Huntsville Reproductive Medicine said that while it would continue to provide IVF treatment, it would no longer dispose of frozen embryos — some of which have been abandoned for 16 years — without a notary-signed consent from patients.

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