Election Day Issues: Fertility Treatment Threatened

election day and personhoodWhy is personhood relevant for Election Day and fertility treatment issues? Let's start with a few definitions:

Personhood

per·son·hood

ˈpərs(ə)nˌho͝od/

noun

1. the quality or condition of being an individual person.

 

personhood

noun

1. the state or fact of being a person.

2. the state or fact of being an individual or having human characteristics and feelings.

 

personhood (ˈp£ːsənˌhʊd)

noun

1. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) the condition of being a person who is an individual with inalienable rights, esp under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States

When I read these definitions, I do not see how embryos qualify for the term “personhood”.  The fourteenth amendment states, Section 1:

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

 

Born or naturalized. Neither of those terms fit an embryo.

I’ve read some great blogs, containing very pertinent comments regarding what the political and personal ramifications of these proposed amendments will be. Keiko Zoll wrote a piece last week that quoted Sean Tipton, chief advocacy and policy officer for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). The article, "Personhood Amendments Would Hurt Families Who Want Children," discussed how these proposed amendments will affect fertility patients and beyond.

Resolve has taken a very active stance on this subject as well with their #No2Personhood Campaign.

I admit to finding rather random points about this as striking, partly because I want to delve a little deeper down into our societal conscience. So here are three thoughts and lots more questions.

Women's Choice About Embryos and Embryo Transfer

1. Women not having the choice about how many embryos are transferred to her uterus. Couples or singles, not having a choice about what do with unused embryos.

Interesting questions that come to mind around all of this. If the embryos are pre-people, aren’t they also pre-children? Wouldn’t that make the disposition of the embryos up to the pre parents? Of course the parents can’t murder or kill a child, which essentially is how this amendment is looking at the issue. So these groups of cells suddenly become autonomous from the genetic parents who have had them created. Exactly who would make the decisions for these embryos? While the amendments would prevent the embryos from being created unless either being placed in the woman’s uterus or donated to another person, it would not address the question of the thousands of embryos presently in cryopreservation.

Another aspect of this is that with IVF, there is a push to super ovulate and produce as many eggs as possible, with the idea of creating a fair amount of embryos. Usually more than the one or two needed. Why?

Because the chances of an egg being retrieved and making it all the way through that process, then the additional steps of being fertilized and then growing to become an embryo that can be transferred are not as high as any of us would like. Depending on many factors, including age, diagnosis and the fertility program that a patient is using, chances of success vary widely. Too widely to be quoted responsibly here.

 

Cryopreservation Decisions for Frozen Embryos

2. Men and women not having the choice about creating and cryopreserving embryos

Why is this important? How about siblings? How about not having to go through a full IVF cycle again, with its risks, time, and expenses and for women, aging eggs?

I’m going to say a few unpopular things here. Politically incorrect things, even. In the US, there are many embryos frozen. Many. Tens of thousands, many. For many years, decades even.

While a man or woman can accept that these embryos are not babies and not even babies to be, it is often much harder to dispose of the embryos when they have a baby/child from that collection of embryos running around. They see siblings. They see past the embryo being a possibility of life and fast forward to the embryo being a child.

So the men and women who have created these embryos pay to keep them frozen, delaying making a decision about the embryos even long after the decision not to use them has been made.  

There are even “abandoned“ embryos, where the men and women who have created them have stopped paying the fees to keep them frozen but the fertility program can’t dispose of them without permission. They don’t answer letter or phone calls and so the embryos cannot be discarded.

How do we address this? How do we help men and women in these situations address these complex issues? Also, could we not pretend that these issues are not present?

Patients frequently see their embryos as babies to be. Of course they do, they see cells dividing. They know fertilization has taken place and that these embryos are growing. They know that these are the babies that they are hoping for. They sometimes even name them. In the guise of being positive, they negate the reality that these embryos are possibilities because they are told to stay hopeful and see the pregnancy test turn positive. But embryos are not babies. They just aren’t. And maybe we don’t further our cause of defeating legislature like this about “personhood” when we encourage people to be so positive that they see their embryos as babies. Something to consider, no?

Fertility Treatment Program Access

           

3. Does bestowing “personhood” on embryos further or diminish men and women’s abilities to have a child? North Dakota has one reproductive endocrinologists' program in the entire state. ONE. This legislature will all but guarantee that men and women in North Dakota will be unable to find help for the disease of infertility in their own state if that fertility program closes due to this amendment.

Wouldn’t it be great if we all tried to remember that infertility is a disease? Recognized by the American Medical Association as a disease. A disease that this amendment will prevent people in North Dakota and Colorado from getting appropriate, effective treatment for.

This piece of writing is not meant to be comprehensive. This is a huge subject with a lot of inter relating pieces. There are many points of view and many different aspects that are relevant, important and compelling. Please do educate yourself regarding what this amendment is about.

You may live someplace where you know this will never happen to you. You may be right.

And you may not.

This will set precedent and make it easier to pass in other states. That’s what history shows us. So don’t dismiss this conversation just because you don’t live in North Dakota or Colorado. This topic affects all of us.

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Topics: RESOLVE, Embryo, Women's Reproductive Rights, Abortion, Personhood, Keiko Zoll, Reproductive Autonomy, Fertility Treatment

Lisa Rosenthal

Lisa has over thirty years of experience in the fertility field. After her personal infertility journey, she felt dissatisfied with the lack of comprehensive services available to support her. She was determined to help others undergoing fertility treatment. Lisa has been with RMACT for eleven years and serves as Patient Advocate and the Strategic Content Lead.

Lisa is the teacher and founder of Fertile Yoga, a program designed to support men and women on their quest for their families through gentle movement and meditation.

Lisa’s true passion is supporting patients getting into treatment, being able to stay in treatment and staying whole and complete throughout the process. Lisa is also a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, which is helpful in her work with fertility patients.

Her experience also includes working with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and The American Fertility Association (now Path2Parenthood), where she was Educational Coordinator, Conference Director and Assistant Executive Director.

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