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The Student News Site of Great Neck North High School

Guide Post

The Student News Site of Great Neck North High School

Guide Post

Alabama Court Case Endangers In Vitro Fertilization

Three couples in Alabama sued their fertility clinic for accidentally damaging their embryos created through in vitro fertilization. However, the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling in their favor raises legal uncertainties for the future of I.V.F. treatment.

Three anguished couples’ pursuit of emotional clarity has spiraled into a political dissension across the nation. These three couples, who had each created embryos through in vitro fertilization at a clinic in Alabama, experienced a tragedy in which their embryos were improperly handled and dropped on the floor by a wandering patient. The destruction of these embryos prompted the couples to sue the center and hospital under the grounds of Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

A lower court initially ruled the wrongful death lawsuit invalid, stating that embryos were not included within the act. The Alabama Supreme Court, however, ruled in the couples’ favor on Feb. 16 under the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, ultimately asserting that frozen embryos are, in fact, children.

“Unborn children are ‘children’ … without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics,” Justice Jay Mitchell wrote. He also cited that, in the past, Alabama’s judges have included killed fetuses within the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act—so why should “extrauterine children” be excluded?

Outside the Alabama State House, hundreds of people rally in support of I.V.F. resources in Montgomery, Ala. on Feb. 28 (Credit: Mickey Welsh).

This case, LePage v. Center for Reproductive Medicine, P.C., aimed to address the three couples—the LePages, the Fondes and the Aysennes—who successfully sued. But as a result, the legality of I.V.F. in Alabama has changed, as some question how clinics must use, store and even dispose of frozen embryos under Alabama’s new precedent.

Though the Feb. 16 ruling does not prohibit I.V.F. treatment, not all of a couple’s embryos created during I.V.F. are used, and some are nonviable, resulting in the disposal of embryos. The verdict of LePage v. Center for Reproductive Medicine, P.C. now classifies these discarded embryos as killed children, leading some Alabamian clinics to suspend their services.

“Because you can’t dispose of a damaged embryo without it being illegal, [the case] is setting a precedent to make I.V.F. completely illegal,” said sophomore Max Mueller, treasurer of Mock Trial. “Other Republican states can see Alabama do this, support it and do the same.”

An estimated one in six couples struggle with infertility, but I.V.F. helps these individuals with a variety of obstacles, including a low sperm count, damaged fallopian tubes, ovulation disorders and unexplained infertility. I.V.F. treatment entails a woman taking hormones to encourage egg production, followed by the surgical removal of these eggs. The woman’s eggs are then combined with sperm in a laboratory, and upon fertilization, the embryo is inserted in the woman’s uterus, allowing for fetal development. Oftentimes, labs freeze and store multiple embryos, as multiple attempts are usually made.

In La Jollof, Calif., an embryologist holds a dish with embryos (Credit: WWNO).

Certain factors—such as the woman’s age—impact the procedure’s success rate. On average, however, an estimated two-thirds of I.V.F. patients see a successful outcome, and since the treatment’s introduction in 1978, 8 million babies have been born through I.V.F.

“I think it’s important that I.V.F. is an accessible resource because of all the parents that can only have children [that way,]” said sophomore Naomi Zarnighian, who was born through I.V.F. alongside her twin sister, Noya. “There’s no way my mom would’ve been able to have any of her own children, let alone me, without I.V.F.”

The pivotal Feb. 16 ruling prompted three I.V.F. providers in Alabama to pause their services, invoking a demand for change, as well as public anger towards Alabamian lawmakers. In turn, Alabama’s governor signed a bill into law on March 6 that aims to protect individuals receiving and administering I.V.F. treatment.

Under the new legislation, approved by Alabama’s House of Representatives and Senate in addition to Gov. Kay Ivey, those involved in the I.V.F. process are granted criminal and civil immunity—including both providers and receivers. Two of the clinics that halted their I.V.F. operations have resumed due to the new legislation, the third continues to withhold their services, believing that the bill lacks sufficient legal protection.

I.V.F. patient Elizabeth Goldman presents a photo of her baby at a panel discussion led by Xavier Becerra, the Secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services, on Feb. 27 in Birmingham, Ala. (Credit: Lee Hedgepeth).

Much like the I.V.F. facility involved in the Alabama Supreme Court case, many Americans believe that the legislation passed on March 6 is only a temporary solution to a larger issue. For one, the bill could complicate suing for medical malpractice. Yet, more importantly, the bill does not address the quandary that is taking the nation by storm: if an embryo truly is a person and how this affects reproductive rights.

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About the Contributor
Jolie Nassi, Managing Editor
Jolie Nassi is one of Guide Post’s managing editors. Her writing can be found in the New York Times, Guide Post, and the wall of CS’s backroom. In addition to writing, her other hobbies include reading, researching historical events, and drinking prolific amounts of bubble tea with her friends. She is also an officer for several clubs at North High, such as Model U.N. and Mock Trial. Jolie is a passionate grammarian, dedicated CSer, and aspiring English major.

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