Health Talk | Unpacking Alabama SC's decision that counts embryo as unborn child - Hindustan Times
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Health Talk | Unpacking Alabama SC's decision that counts embryo as unborn child

Feb 24, 2024 05:51 PM IST

A tale of two countries, and their approach to IVF treatment: In India, the rules are being amended too, but in favour of couples

Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court in the United States of America ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law, a ruling that can have far reaching legal implications for the entire in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatment ecosystem.

Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court in the United States of America ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law(Wiki Commons) PREMIUM
Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court in the United States of America ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law(Wiki Commons)

The decision has been criticised by President Joe Biden and also by America’s infertility associations, according to US local media reports.

Why was the ruling made?

Three couples filed a lawsuit against a fertility clinic after their frozen embryos for IVF were destroyed. The embryos reportedly were destroyed by a patient who wandered into the nursery and accidentally dropped several of them on the floor. The Alabama Supreme Court declared parents may sue over the death of a child, regardless of whether the child is born or unborn.

What is an embryo?

An embryo is an extremely early stage of life form that later turns into a foetus close to nine weeks of pregnancy.

Why is the ruling being criticised?

The ruling is troublesome primarily because of the legal implications of calling an embryo a child, that would imply the destruction of an embryo be seen or treated as a loss of life. It could impede the whole IVF treatment ecosystem, said experts.

“It is not scientifically correct; an embryo is not a child. It is not even a foetus. You can’t inject religion into science. This will have far-reaching legal implications, therefore the idea should be nipped in the bud as it will hamper the IVF treatment process in the long run,” said Dr Shivani Sachdev Gour, Delhi-based senior IVF specialist.

With advancement in reproductive technology, surrogacy and assisted reproductive technology (ART) emerged as a viable option for infertile couples. ART deals with all techniques that assist in conception by handling the sperm or the oocyte (egg cell) outside the human body and transferring the gamete or the embryo into the reproductive system of a woman.

What happens in India?

Meanwhile, the Indian government has been amending rules to make them more couple friendly. Recently, it amended the law to allow the use of donor eggs or sperms for the intending couple undergoing surrogacy if either partner has a medical condition. Earlier rules directed that only self-eggs or sperms could be used.

“It was a much-needed amendment as couples were experiencing a tough time and approaching courts. Cases were piling up in the Supreme Court. Men can produce quality sperms till late in their life but for women egg numbers and quality goes down after 40. It will come as a big relief,” added Sachdev-Gour.

Surrogacy is a more complicated process, as it is a practice where a woman gives birth to a child for an intending couple with the intention to hand over the child soon after birth to them.

India had a flourishing surrogacy market because of cheaper rates Indian women offered for the process that gradually resulted in exploitation of the surrogates. The Indian government stepped in and regulated the ART market by passing the Surrogacy (Regulation) Act 2021 and the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Act 2021, which came into force on January 25, 2022.

Rhythma Kaul, national deputy editor, health, analyses the impact of the most significant piece of news this week in the health sector.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Rhythma Kaul works as an assistant editor at Hindustan Times. She covers health and related topics, including ministry of health and family welfare, government of India.

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