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Alabama’s decision on frozen embryos could change IVF

On Behalf of | Mar 6, 2024 | Assisted Reproduction

A recent ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court could set a precedent that changes everything about how in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures are performed – or even if they can be performed at all. 

In reference to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by several couples whose fertilized embryos were destroyed in a lab accident, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are, legally, children. The ruling is already sending shockwaves through the assisted reproductive technology industry. At least one major player in the state, the University of Alabama at Birmingham health system, has already halted IVF treatments for the time being.

What the ruling means for assisted reproduction 

Embryos are eggs that have been removed from a woman’s ovaries and then implanted with sperm from a man and allowed to grow for several days before freezing for later use. One or many such embryos may then be later implanted in a woman’s womb in hopes that the implantation will become a viable pregnancy. Excess embryos that go unused are sometimes stored, donated or destroyed.

With the new ruling, it’s no longer clear if it’s even legal to create embryos that aren’t immediately intended to be used in the next IVF cycle, and there are definitely questions about whether existing embryos can be legally donated or destroyed. 

That stands to drastically raise the difficulty and cost of every IVF cycle. It would no longer be possible, for example, to harvest a large number of eggs from women at one time to create embryos for reserve use, thereby increasing the risks for the women themselves and raising the cost of IVF in general. 

While it is still too soon to know exactly how this ruling will affect IVF procedures both inside and outside of Alabama, this is another reminder that the laws surrounding assisted reproduction have become increasingly complicated to navigate alone.