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National News

University of Alabama Birmingham pauses IVF treatments after court ruling

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Alander Rocha, Alabama Reflector
February 21, 2024

A major hospital in Birmingham said Wednesday it was halting in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments after an Alabama Supreme Court ruling declaring that frozen embryos are children.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, part of the largest health system in the state, said Wednesday it paused its IVF program following the decision on Friday.

“We are 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,” Hannah Echols, a UAB spokesperson wrote in a statement.

Fertilization and embryo development are currently on hold, according to the statement. UAB patients can continue the process up until egg retrieval, one of the initial steps in which eggs are taken from the ovaries.

Writing for the majority, Justice Jay Mitchell said that there was no exception for frozen embryos under an 1872 law known as the Wrongful Death of a Child Act, allowing civil lawsuits for the deaths of children, or under a 2018 state constitutional amendment that required the state to “ensure the protection of the rights of the unborn child.”

Barbara Collura, president and CEO of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, said they are “absolutely heartbroken” that UAB “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.”

In a statement, Collura warned this could have national implications for the 15% of the population who struggle with fertility.

“This cruel ruling, and the subsequent decision by UAB’s health system, are horrifying signals of what’s to come across the country,” Collura wrote.

The Medical Association of the State of Alabama (MASA), which represents physicians in the state, warned of further unintended consequences in a statement Wednesday.

“Others will likely do the same, leaving little to no alternatives for reproductive assistance,” the statement said.

The legal dispute revolved around embryos stored at a fertility center in Mobile. According to the lawsuit, a patient in 2020 gained access to the fertility clinic and removed multiple frozen embryos from a storage area. The patient accidentally dropped the frozen embryos, destroying them.

The plaintiffs, previously patients at the facility, sued the clinic under the 1872 wrongful death law. A lower court ruled in favor of the clinic, arguing that the embryos did not meet the criteria for “person” or “child.”

However, Mitchell wrote that the clinic was asking the court for an “unwritten exception for extrauterine children in the wrongful-death context,” claiming that the law “applies to all children, born and unborn, without limitation.”

IVF is oftentimes the only option for couples wanting to conceive, according to MASA’s statement, and that the decision will lead to “fewer babies … as fertility options become limited for those who want to have a family.”

Collura said that a normal IVF cycle is hard enough for those living with infertility and trying to build a family and said, “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,” Colluda said in the statement.

Alabama Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alabama Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Brian Lyman for questions: info@alabamareflector.com. Follow Alabama Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Alabama Reflector under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.