Frozen embryos ruled as children under Alabama law, IVF clinics pause treatments

Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos can now be considered children under state law, in a 7-2 decision that was rooted in an 1872 state law as well as biblical verses. This ruling overturns a previous decision that had dismissed a wrongful death claim brought by three couples who had filed a lawsuit against a fertility clinic whose frozen embryos had been destroyed. The ruling has brought criticism from many reproductive healthcare experts as well as the White House, who describe it as "the type of chaos that we expected when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade." This ruling is likely to have an impact on fertility treatments in Alabama, potentially increasing the cost of IVF treatments and causing uncertainty for doctors and patients alike.

Frozen embryos, or fertilised eggs that are stored in a cryogenic nursery, are used in in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments to assist couples who have been unable to conceive naturally. These embryos are legally considered as property, and can be implanted in a woman's uterus to facilitate pregnancy. In the past, courts have upheld the property status of embryos, however this latest ruling now considers them as children, entitled to the rights detailed under the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

This ruling could potentially impact fertility treatments and the freezing of embryos, which had previously been considered property by the courts. It is likely that IVF treatments will now be significantly impacted, with doctors and patients unsure of how to proceed. This ruling also fails to consider the ethical considerations of embryo personhood, including the fact that embryos are not yet considered humans and do not have brains or consciousness.

Conversely, many reproductive healthcare experts argue that this ruling could help to reduce the number of abortions performed each year, as embryos are now legally recognised as children. This conflation of embryos and children could also impact abortion law, by reinforcing the idea that embryos and foetuses are entitled to the same rights as fully developed, born children.

This ruling is the first of its kind in the United States, and has been described as a "terrifying development" for the 1 in 6 people impacted by infertility. It is likely that IVF treatments will now be significantly impacted, with doctors and patients unsure of how to proceed.

It remains to be seen what the implications of this ruling will be, but it is likely to cause confusion and reignite discussions about whether IVF should be restricted. This ruling could also have an impact on other states, and could lead to a reconsideration of the legal status of embryos and abortion laws.

Ultimately, this ruling raises important questions about the legal and ethical implications of personhood and the rights of embryos and fertilised eggs. It is clear that further consideration and debate is required to determine the appropriate legal and ethical frameworks for dealing with these technologies.

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