HEALTH

The future of IVF in Utah following the Alabama Supreme Court embryo ruling

Feb 22, 2024, 3:00 PM | Updated: Feb 23, 2024, 10:26 am

Containers holding frozen embryos and sperm are stored in liquid nitrogen at a fertility clinic in ...

FILE - Containers holding frozen embryos and sperm are stored in liquid nitrogen at a fertility clinic in Fort Myers, Fla. The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law (Lynne Sladky, Associated Press)

(Lynne Sladky, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — Following the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law, one of the state’s largest health centers has paused in vitro fertilization. 

So where does that leave Utah? 

The background of the Alabama case

A group of parents in Alabama brought the case forward after someone removed their cryogenically frozen embryos from a freezer.

They allege that a patient at the hospital was able to walk into the center’s fertility clinic and then remove the embryos from the cryogenic nursery.

The freezing temperatures from the stored embryos froze the person’s hands and they dropped the embryos. 

The parents originally brought two lawsuits against the center. One, under Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, the other under common-law claims of negligence asking for damages.

The cases were dismissed in the trial court and then appealed. 

Then the case went to the Alabama Supreme Court, which ruled that “the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location.”

That includes unborn babies that are outside the uterus. 

A Utah lawyer reacts

Leslie Francis is a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Utah. She’s also an adjunct professor in Family and Preventive Medicine and Internal Medicine – in the Division of Medical Ethics. 

She said when she first heard about the case she thought it was disastrous.

But when she read it and listened to the oral arguments, she said she saw that this “is a way to damage control, which is to think of the case as ‘What can you do for parents who lose a valued embryo when it looks like the only statute that would give them a recovery of damages is that Wrongful Death of a Minor Statute in the state of Alabama?’”

Utah has a wrongful death statute for a minor. It’s been used in cases like the pregnant Salt Lake City mother who was killed in May 2022.

In that case, Jack Keith Archibald pleaded guilty to two counts of automobile homicide after driving under the influence. One count was for the woman’s death and the other was for her unborn child. 

A Utah Supreme Court ruling in 2011 set the precedent for an unborn child to qualify as a minor. 

But Francis said there’s no way to know if Utah would interpret its wrongful death statute the same way Alabama did until a case came up here.

The future of IVF in Utah

Francis said one thing she would consider is that Utah enacted its wrongful death statute for unborn children somewhat recently. She said in 2011 IVF was widely practiced in Utah.

“Certainly, I would make the argument that Utah adopted that statute from the legislature with the knowledge that people in the state of Utah valued IVF and would not have intended to preclude what is a very important way for couples in Utah to have the babies they want.”

Francis said if she worked for an IVF program in Utah, she would want to get clarification from the legislature.

Dr. Erica Johnstone is a reproductive endocrinologist with University of Utah Health. She said discussions about the Alabama ruling are underway in the IVF community and broader fertility world. 

She said as far as she knows, Utah’s IVF programs aren’t doing anything differently. 

“This is specific to the state of Alabama,” Dr. Johnstone said. “We here in Utah today are not changing what we’re doing.”

She said this ruling leaves a lot “up in the air” about the future of IVF. 

“Certainly one question is ‘must those embryos be frozen forever?’” she said. “But I think it gets to an even bigger question of ‘can you still freeze an embryo if an embryo is considered a human life?’”

She said the ruling is scary and hard for her patients because “a frozen embryo just isn’t the same thing as a baby and I think it’s hard to know how a fertility clinic could go on helping patients with this ruling.”

Related: 

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Health

Two electronic scooters sit parked on Main Street and 200 South in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May...

Aimee Cobabe and Heather Peterson

Second e-scooter death being investigated in Salt Lake City

A 41-year-old man died after police said he was hit while riding an e-scooter at 800 West North Temple on Sunday.

8 hours ago

Image shows a person receiving a measles vaccine, Based on national behavior, measles cases are lik...

Allessandra Harris Gurr

Measles cases likely to pop up in Utah this year, health official says

Measles cases haven't made it to Utah yet but health professionals advise getting vaccinated and watching for symptoms.

10 hours ago

Marijuana plants grow in a facility in Tooele, Uah....

Heather Peterson

Medical marijuana card numbers spike in Utah

Utah has had a large spike in the number of medical marijuana cards issued to patients over the last few years.

13 hours ago

vape addiction vaping marijuana...

Amie Schaeffer

Talking to teens about marijuana misuse

Gray Matters Utah talks about having conversations with teenagers about marijuana misuse.

14 hours ago

(Canva)...

Michelle Lee

Find greater happiness through joy-filled connections

Let’s Get Moving Host Maria Shilaos spoke with Clinical Psychologist Dr. Carla Manly to learn how we can boost happiness through connections.

2 days ago

The Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah.A Utah cancer researcher says more study is n...

Don Brinkerhoff and Simone Seikaly

Utah cancer researcher says new accelerated aging study needs more examination

A new study says accelerated aging may be linked to early-onset cancer, but a Utah cancer researcher says more investigation is needed.

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.

...

Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

The future of IVF in Utah following the Alabama Supreme Court embryo ruling