An Alabama medical centre has stopped all IVF treatments after a court ruled that embryos are babies.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), an academic medical centre, suspended its IVF treatments so it could consider the legal repercussions of the decision, made by the state’s supreme court.

The ruling was made in a case where a person wandered into an unlocked storage area at a fertility clinic and dropped several frozen embryos on the floor.

The court determined that failing to secure that storage area violated the state’s Wrongful Death Act – which says an unjustified or negligent act that leads to someone’s death is a civil offence – because the frozen embryos were considered human beings.

The ruling has left both IVF providers and patients unsure of how the law might be interpreted in future cases.

Some said treating the embryo as a child – rather than property – could have broader implications and call into question many of the practices of IVF.

“If this is now a person, will we be able to freeze embryos?” Barbara Collura, chief executive of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, said.

More on Alabama

Hannah Echols, a UAB spokesperson, said: “We are saddened that this will impact our patients’ attempt to have a baby through IVF, but we must evaluate the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for IVF treatments.”

UAB will continue to offer egg retrieval, the process of collecting eggs from one or both ovaries but will no longer fertilise eggs or develop embryos.

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Fertility treatment: The struggle for single women

The Medical Association of Alabama called on Wednesday for the state supreme court to reconsider or suspend its ruling so residents can have continued access to IVF.

“The ruling has already forced UAB, the largest healthcare system in the State of Alabama, to stop providing IVF services to Alabama couples. Others will likely do the same, leaving little to no alternatives for reproductive assistance,” the association said in a statement.

Read more:
How single women are facing IVF discrimination
Fertility treatments on the up, but not via NHS

It added that the decision “will likely lead to fewer babies – children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins – as fertility options become limited for those who want to have a family”.

The practise of IVF involves combining sperm and eggs in a lab to create embryos, then implanting one or more of those embryos in a person’s uterus.

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