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Alabama hospital ceases IVF services by year’s end over litigation concerns

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Alabama’s Mobile Infirmary Medical Center has announced the cessation of in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments by the end of 2024, citing apprehensions regarding potential litigation. This decision comes amid a contentious period marked by the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling, deeming frozen embryos from IVF procedures as children, and subsequent legislative actions aimed at bolstering legal safeguards for IVF practices.

“In order to assist families in Alabama and along the Gulf Coast who have initiated the process of IVF therapy in the hopes of starting a family, Mobile Infirmary has temporarily resumed IVF treatments at the hospital. However, in light of litigation concerns surrounding IVF therapy, Mobile Infirmary will no longer be able to offer this service to families after December 31, 2024,” read a statement published Wednesday on the hospital’s official website.

The Mobile Infirmary Medical Center became embroiled in legal battles following incidents in 2020 where couples’ frozen embryos were inadvertently dropped and destroyed. The consequential court ruling, equating frozen embryos to minors, enabled affected couples to pursue legal recourse for wrongful death. Observers at the time cautioned about potential broader implications of this precedent-setting decision.

The court’s verdict in February prompted a halt in IVF services by the state’s major providers and sparked outrage among families, fertility specialists, and advocacy groups, who expressed concerns over diminished access and care following the ruling. Responding to these apprehensions, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law a bill in March aimed at shielding IVF providers from legal liabilities arising from the court’s ruling.

The legislation, endorsed by the Republican-dominated state House and Senate, affords protections to providers against criminal charges and curtails lawsuits related to “damage or death of an embryo” during IVF procedures. Subsequent to the bill’s enactment, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which suspended IVF treatments post the court’s ruling, expressed gratitude towards legislative action, noting plans to resume IVF services swiftly, albeit with ongoing advocacy for further safeguards for IVF patients and providers.

However, critics argue that the legislation falls short in adequately safeguarding doctors and clinics. Sean Tipton, a spokesperson for The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, representing IVF providers nationwide, contends that the legislation fails to address the core issue of the court’s ruling, which he views as conflating fertilized eggs with children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in five individuals face challenges with conception after a year of trying, with fertility treatments becoming increasingly prevalent, as indicated by a recent survey revealing that 42% of American adults have utilized or know someone who has availed themselves of fertility treatments.

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