Alabama Supreme Court Rules Frozen Embryos are ‘Children’ Threatening IVF Treatments


In a first-of-its-kind ruling, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled on Friday that frozen embryos are children, and that a person can be held liable for destroying them. In a majority opinion, Justice Jay Mitchell wrote that an 1872 law allowing civil lawsuits for the wrongful death of children doesn’t have an exception for frozen embryos, nor does a 2018 state constitutional amendment compelling the state to “ensure the protection of the rights of the unborn child.”

The case centered on the question of whether a patient who mistakenly destroyed the embryo of another patient could be held liable in a wrongful-death lawsuit. The court ruled that the patient could be held liable, writing, “The upshot here is that the phrase ‘minor child’ means the same thing in the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act as it does in everyday parlance: ‘an unborn or recently born’ individual member of the human species, from fertilization until the age of majority.”

The ruling invoked Christian ideology throughout, arguing ultimately that the theologically based view of the sanctity of life adopted by the People of Alabama holds that “human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God, who views the destruction of His image as an affront to Himself.”

Advocates of IVF treatment patients have argued that after the dissolution of Roe v. Wade, individual states’ definitions of personhood would have legal ramifications for fertility treatment and embryos.

“This is exactly what we have been fearful of and worried about where it was heading,” Barbara Collura, CEO of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association told USA Today. “We are extremely concerned that this is now going to happen in other states.” Collura continued saying that the Alabama Supreme Court decision may halt most IVF work in the state because doctors would be afraid that mishandling an embryo — or even a miscarriage — could open them up to homicide charges.

Stephen Stetson, director of Planned Parenthood Alabama, said in comments to The 19th News, that granting legal personhood to frozen embryos is “extremely alarming,” adding that this sets a dangerous precedent for people in Alabama who are “trying to control their bodies, access health care and plan their families.”

The Pew Research Center reports that over 40% of U.S. adults have used fertility treatments or know someone who has, up from 33% five years ago, according to the Pew survey.

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Tags: fertility, pregnancy, roe v. wade

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