‘I don’t want to implant a child that I know is going to miscarry’: Families and doctors left in limbo after Alabama rules embryos are children – so which states could be next?

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Patients are worried about legal repercussions for standard fertility treatments
  • Similar rulings may follow – Louisiana already says destroying embryos is a crime
  • READ MORE:  Inside Gen-Z’s great rush to freeze their eggs

The Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that frozen embryos are children under state law sent shockwaves across the country and left many wondering which states could be next.

In the wake of the state court’s ruling, which means people could theoretically be sued for destroying an embryo, Alabama doctors have been fielding calls from nervous patients like Gabby Goidel, 26, who chose to try in vitro fertilization after several miscarriages due to unexplained genetic infertility.

She opted for IVF because the process allows doctors to test embryos for  abnormalities and Ms Goidel believes it wouldn’t be fair on her or a child to carry an unviable fetus that could miscarry or be born with severe health issues.

Already the University of Alabama hospitals has halted IVF treatments over fears doctors will be prosecuted.

Auburn, Alabama-native Gabby Goidel opted for IVF because of an unexplained genetic fertility problem. But she is now concerned about the impact that the Alabama ruling will have on her chances of getting pregnant

The highlighted states have laws on the books stipulating that life begins at the moment of fertilization. In Louisiana, the intentional disposal or destruction of a human embryo is illegal

The highlighted states have laws on the books stipulating that life begins at the moment of fertilization. In Louisiana, the intentional disposal or destruction of a human embryo is illegal

UAB spokeswoman Hannah Echols said: ‘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 unprecedented ruling by Alabama’s Supreme Court is the first to endow full human rights to an organism so soon after fertilization and opens the door to similar rulings in other states. 

Ms Goidel said she was filled with dread when she heard the news.

She told NBC News: ‘Most of our embryos are not going to be genetically normal.

‘My hope would be that we could let those embryos naturally pass, but now it’s, “Do we have to save them?” I don’t necessarily want to implant a child that I know is going to miscarry.’

The ruling could open the door to wrongful death lawsuits in all cases where embryos do not survive being thawed and transferred to the uterus, potentially sending doctors in the state fleeing elsewhere to practice medicine.

IVF advocates have warned for years that restrictions on IVF were a possible repercussion of the 2022 Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Barbara Collura, CEO of Resolve: The National Infertility Association, said: ‘This is exactly what we have been fearful of and worried about where it was heading.

‘We are extremely concerned that this is now going to happen in other states.’

Ms Collura added that the suit did not declare IVF illegal, ‘But it did say the embryos that are handled in an IVF process are children. Are people. And that begs the question: Can we freeze a human? And if we freeze a human, who is liable for that?’

The ruling is limited to Alabama, but reproductive rights advocates have warned of a potential domino effect elsewhere.

Kelly Baden, Vice President for Public Policy at the abortion rights group Guttmacher Institute, told DailyMail.com: ‘This radical concept of personhood has long been championed by the anti-abortion movement and is now one step closer to becoming reality.

‘The potential impacts are vast—your ability to build a family, continue a healthy pregnancy, or choose abortion are all connected; judicial and legislative attacks on one impact all.’

Which state will come next remains to be seen. A handful of others, including Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Missouri, have laws on the books that say human life begins at the moment of fertilization and give those embryos the same rights as a person.

Ms Goidel and her husband

Ms Goidel and her husband 

In Louisiana, it is illegal to dispose of embryos, which are called ‘juridical persons.’ In Kansas, lawmakers introduced a bill last year that would establish a new crime of ‘unlawful destruction of a fertilized embryo.’

An estimated 1.5 million embryos currently sit in cryogenic nurseries across the US.

A lawsuit alleging wrongful death in the case of a discarded embryo could reach the courts in those states, forcing judges to make a similarly impactful ruling. Or, state legislatures would have to pass and enact a law barring the disposal of embryos and potentially penalizing those who do it.

IVF is a process in which eggs retrieved from the woman’s ovaries are fertilized outside of the womb and implanted in the woman’s uterus. Doctors typically fertilize as many healthy eggs as possible to give the woman the best chance of having a baby; unused fertilized eggs are frozen and stored.

Eventually, the unused embryos are discarded, though when depends on the clinic and what the patient needs.

With possible consequences for discarding the unused embryos, doctors may be barred from fertilizing eggs that won’t end up being implanted. This winnows down a woman’s chances of getting pregnant.

Doctors typically fertilize as many eggs as they can retrieve during a cycle of IVF but, under possible civil penalty, may only feel comfortable fertilizing a couple of eggs, forcing women to undergo several rounds of costly egg retrievals to achieve the same pregnancy rate that they were trying to achieve with one retrieval.

Providers may also be forced to leave the state for fear of being sued or because of the high cost of storing excess embryos. IVF patients also have to pay fees to store embryos, in amounts ranging from $350 to $1,000 per year.

Around one in five American women are unable to get pregnant, and roughly a third have either turned to fertility treatments themselves or know someone who has. For women younger than 35 years old, IVF is successful about 47 percent of time.

The landscape in Alabama has made the Goidels reconsider staying there. 

Gabby said: ‘We’re this very traditional family that just wants to have a kid, so I didn’t realize ever that this was going to be a question of morality.

‘We really envisioned starting a life here and probably retiring here. We’re very much questioning whether or not we want to leave.’


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