IVF: Looking at Alabama

Photo by Blake Israel

What will Alabama’s Supreme Court ruling affect?

The Alabama Supreme Court recently ruled that frozen embryos, a part of the In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) process, can be considered children under state law. 

IVF consists of artificial insemination of eggs, which are cultivated to an embryonic state and then inserted into a patient. Given the court ruling surrounding embryos, many IVF clinics have paused procedures. 

In light of these events, we at the Technique wish to discuss the possible impacts of the ruling and the IVF industry as a whole.

In order to induce pregnancy, numerous embryos must be cultivated, and multiple levels of insertion must occur. The standard of care often results in more than one embryo being created for an IVF cycle, and it is possible that not all are inserted. This means that for people pursuing IVF, there exists a responsibility for the many frozen embryos that were created as part of the process. 

These embryos must also be stored by clinics. This ruling introduces a new requirement of the clinics because they could be charged with murder charges for disposing of these embryos and instead would be forced to store innumerable embryos. 

Some argue that the embryos could be donated to other couples, but this should not be required of people as it is their own sperm and eggs. Additionally, there are far more embryos than couples, meaning there would still be many unused embryos. 

If IVF clinics are forced to store eggs and can’t throw them away due to legal issues, what happens with embryos when people stop paying for their storage? 

The expectation that couples burdened with turning to third-party clinics and struggles with impregnation must also pay for lifetime storage is extreme. There are currently alternatives to unending storage, but with this ruling, the legality of those may come into question.

Unused embryos are often donated to stem cell research. Blastocysts from the embryos can be isolated for stem cell research, but this kills the egg itself. Considering embryos to be legally be human beings has widespread implications for stem cell research. as well. There are minimal alternative options when conducting such experimentation, which contribute to disease treatment development and other medical advancements. 

Beyond the implications of the ruling, there are issues within the IVF industry as well. Price-gouging is extremely common, as patients are often desperate for pregnancy. The industry is currently very underregulated, and practices like genetic screenings are marketed as add-ons and charged services. 

Another practice common in IVF clinics is hyperstimulation of the ovaries, which contributes to overproduction of mature eggs. This can have severe health impacts on patients and sometimes even be fatal. 

While IVF is far from perfect, it should not be banned, which is — in effect — the result of this ruling. IVF needs regulations that protect the patients. 

Republicans and Democrats alike have supported IVF, and there have been pledges to protect IVF, even within the conservative pro-life movement. Republican politicians are already scrambling to speak out in support of IVF and calls have been made to the Alabama Supreme Court to remediate the ruling. 

Some possible changes could be increased guidelines on storage procedures. Public banking systems could be created for embryos, a practice already utilized for cord blood. Increased legislation surrounding donations for research and protections for researchers’ access to embryos would allow them to continue their work. 

The fundamental question surrounding this ruling is whether an early-development embryo is considered a child. To us, it is not.

However, if embryos are going to be considered children legally, then the government must implement systematic change to keep IVF as a viable option. 

There is a dire need for more scientifically literate people in powerful legislative positions. In the future, that may be a possibility, but for now, we must call those in power to action to protect IVF and all of those who need it.


The Consensus Opinion reflects the majority opinion of the Editorial Board of the Technique, but not necessarily the opinions of individual editors.