UAB Health, Alabama clinics pause IVF treatments in wake of frozen embryo ruling

The University of Alabama at Birmingham health system and several clinics in Alabama paused in vitro fertilization treatments Feb. 21 after the state's supreme court ruled that frozen embryos are considered children, according to The New York Times.

Under the ruling, Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in the majority opinion that "unborn children are 'children' for purposes of Alabama's Wrongful Death of a Minor Act… a statute that allows parents of a deceased child to recover punitive damages for their child's death." 

The Alabama Supreme Court's decision was made in the wake of a wrongful death case after frozen embryos that belonged to three separate couples seeking IVF treatment were accidentally destroyed at a fertility clinic. 

The process involves extracting the eggs, storing them — often by refrigeration or freezing — and then fertilizing the eggs and inserting them back into the woman's uterus.

UAB Health told the Times that it will continue egg retrieval procedures for patients at this time, but will not continue with the other steps in the process for now. 

"No health care provider will be willing to provide treatments if those treatments may lead to civil or criminal charges," Paula Amato, MD, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said in a statement shared with Becker's.

In the wake of the decision, Justice Gregory Cook, wrote a dissenting opinion stating that "the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act to frozen embryos will have disastrous consequences for the in vitro fertilization industry in Alabama," according to court documents.

How clinics and health systems in the state should move forward related to the treatments remains to be fleshed out.

"If the policy outcomes mandated under this decision stand, the consequences will be profound…" Dr. Amato added. "Young physicians will choose not to come to the state for training or to begin their practice. Existing clinics will be forced to choose between providing suboptimal patient care or shutting their doors."

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