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Alabama Supreme Court Recognizes Frozen Embryos as Children: Implications and Analysis

By Maria Lenin Laus | Dated: 02-23-2024

The Alabama Supreme Court declared frozen embryos, crafted and preserved for in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures, as children under the state’s wrongful death law. This decision has reignited legal battles involving three families and two medical facilities accused of negligence leading to the destruction of these embryos.

How Did the Alabama Supreme Court Reach Its Conclusion?

The court, with an 8-1 majority, grounded its decision on longstanding legal precedent, asserting that “unborn children” fall under the legal definition of “children” as outlined in the state’s 1872 wrongful death statute. The court underscored the significance of a 2018 constitutional amendment emphasizing the state’s commitment to protecting unborn life. Notably, Chief Justice Tom Parker’s concurring opinion highlighted a theological perspective, arguing that the destruction of human life invokes divine retribution.

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Ramifications for IVF Clinics and Patients in Alabama

The ruling has cast uncertainty over the future of IVF treatments in Alabama. Providers fear potential civil and criminal liabilities, prompting some, including the defendants and prominent medical institutions, to suspend IVF services. The decision also raises questions about the legal consequences, including the possibility of criminal charges, associated with discarding frozen embryos. Moreover, it leaves the regulation of IVF practices in the hands of the state legislature.

Possibility of Appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court

While an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court seems improbable due to the ruling’s foundation in state law, avenues for federal intervention remain limited. The conservative majority of the current U.S. Supreme Court suggests a reluctance to entertain arguments challenging state regulations on fetal rights, as evident in recent abortion-related rulings.

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Future Proceedings in Wrongful Death Cases

The Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling does not conclude the ongoing wrongful death lawsuits. These cases will proceed in lower courts, determining the culpability of the defendants in the destruction of embryos. While these outcomes may offer insights into liability standards, they may not address broader concerns surrounding IVF practices.

Potential Impact on IVF Nationwide

While the ruling directly affects Alabama, its implications resonate beyond state borders. Legal experts anticipate that similar legal challenges and legislative actions may emerge in other states, particularly those with strong anti-abortion sentiments. The pursuit of fetal personhood laws and wrongful death claims in other jurisdictions could mirror the legal landscape shaped by Alabama’s precedent-setting decision.

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