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IVF and 'snowflake babies'

A battle is raging in the media. This battle is over whether humans can be held accountable while intervening in the process of life. But the discussion has gone far afield from where it originated.

While serving as a member of the Alabama State Senate in 2016, I was proud to stand in the well of the Senate chamber on multiple occasions arguing for pro-life legislation. It was more than being “anti-abortion,” it was about being “pro-life.”

Among the bills I sponsored, one that did not make it to final passage was the “personhood” bill, advancing the proposition that life is created from the moment of conception. The creation of life comes in that little flash, as small as small can be, when the confluence of sperm cells colliding with eggs results in fertilization, resulting in the greatest miracle of all time.

But there was a side to the arguments that created an internal struggle for me. Some families struggle with pregnancy and require special care. Some pro-life supporters believed that the personhood bill could jeopardize the ability of families to take advantage of in vitro fertilization (IVF).

IVF is the wondrous ability of science to recreate the fertilization process in a clinical setting. To overcome bodily struggles, medical practitioners fertilize a woman’s eggs outside her body, and upon successful fertilization, the embryos are flash-frozen to be implanted in the womb at a later time.

I learned that the standard procedure is to create several viable embryos in the event that they cannot grow to term after implantation. But what about the ones that aren’t needed? What if the mother gets pregnant on the first try but there are still six more embryos in cryo-suspension?

Protocols may differ here and there, but more often than not the extra frozen embryos of human children are either destroyed or handed off to medical researchers to conduct stem cell research.

I wrestled with this. Is it life in the Petri dish? Is a womb required to prove life exists? While preparing for debate, I found one picture that settled the question for me.

The picture was of former President George W. Bush at a 2005 White House gathering. The president was standing among a group of smiling, laughing adults holding a baby wrapped in a blanket. This child was a “snowflake baby,” a frozen embryo adopted from a lab once its original parents did not need it for their own pregnancy, beautiful in every way, bringing joy to parents who had adopted it. This picture moved me and changed my thinking. I went to the floor of the Senate the next day with the assurance that the sanctity of life can be found in a Petri dish.

President Bush concluded that advances in modern science are wonderful, but that they also carry great responsibility. It is an amazing thing that families can know the joy of childbirth by artificial means. But we must also recognize that by doing so, we have stepped into new territory, thereby incurring new positions of liability.

President Bush determined, and I agree, that life, once conceived, is life. It should be celebrated and defended in every form in which it is conceived. “The children here today remind us that there is no such thing as a spare embryo,” he said to the gathered crowd. “Every embryo is unique and genetically complete, like every other human being. And each of us started out our life this way. These lives are not raw material to be exploited, but gifts. And I commend each of the families here today for accepting the gift of these children and offering them the gift of your love.”

Alabama is a decidedly pro-life state. Recently, the Alabama Supreme Court determined that if life is life under our law, then death is also death. If the law of our state allows one to be sued in civil court for wrongfully causing the death of a person, then that law should apply to the death of any person.

Alabama has long-held penalties for the killing of a fetus in a womb. The Court recently held by mere logic that life in a Petri dish is no less valuable than life in a womb. Protection therefore exists for snowflake embryos under the law.

Medical practitioners, fearing civil liability if they knowingly or negligently destroy a fetus in a lab, suddenly shut down their IVF clinics. The liberal meltdown and the political knee-jerking went into high gear. But liberals will always scream, and knee-jerk legislation is dangerous. We cannot rush to a resolution, though I believe that one must be found.

Do we need to address the issue legislatively? Sure. Is there a way to artfully reduce legal exposure for hospitals and IVF clinics? Arguably yes. Do we need to unravel 40 years of fighting for pro-life positions because liberals are having typical meltdowns? Absolutely not.

In the middle of all of it is life. Beautiful life. Snowflake children. Let’s take a breath, find the way forward, think it through, and mitigate liability, but in doing so, keep the forefront of the discussion about life.

Don’t throw those beautiful snowflake babies out with the bath water.

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