Date February 23rd, 2024

ARCS DENOUNCES “DANGEROUS PRECEDENT” COURT DECISION IN ALABAMA

Statement attributable to Professor Jackson Kirkman-Brown, ARCS Chair

 

In LePage v Mobile Infirmary Clinic, the US State of Alabama Supreme Court made a decision that sets an incorrect and dangerous precedent for Reproductive Science. The decision reflects an opinion that a frozen egg, and by implication sperm or embryo, in a fertility clinic freezer should be treated as the legal equivalent of a healthy living child or a baby gestating in a womb. Quite simply this is not scientific or medical truth.

One in six couples in the UK and worldwide require fertility treatment to achieve the child they desperately crave. Modern reproductive science can save sperm, eggs or embryos, by cryopreservation (freezing). It means that, for example, a young person undergoing cancer treatment can start a family in the future. This ability to store and freeze is also key to helping parents achieve the birth of a single, healthy child. But it is important to understand that in natural conception the vast majority of sperm, eggs, or embryos never make a baby.

When couples without a fertility problem have regular unprotected intercourse most months the egg will fertilise but will only go on to implant 20% of the time (80% pass through the female tract and are lost before her period without her ever knowing). Even after a woman has a positive urine pregnancy test fewer than 75% of pregnancies will result in a live birth.

The same is true in IVF, where several eggs must be fertilised to achieve one or more embryos that have the potential to ever become a healthy child. Additional eggs or embryos, with consent, can be frozen for the patient’s future use.

The ruling that all eggs or embryos are equivalent to a healthy living child has already caused some fertility treatment in Alabama to totally cease. It creates a situation where Embryologists, and those in Reproductive Science, may feel at risk of legal charges and/or social campaigns that target them personally. Further, overarching medical providers may, in any case, cease all provision due to similar legal threats thereby endangering their jobs.

Behind all of this are patients – who will be unable to access fertility care and start the families they desire. The ability for people, including cancer survivors, to start a family is something that the pioneering work of British Scientific and Medical pioneers made possible. Our UK systems have allowed for carefully informed debate and regulation of how fertility treatments are offered, but we need to remain aware and stand by our American colleagues, as well as those internationally who are under threat from non-scientific, ideological perspective that ignores the reality of reproduction as revealed in the last 100 years of scientific advancement and care.