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On the cusp of life, and of law

Half a million embryos sit in clinic freezers in the U.S. Now infertility patients privately steer their fates, but that may change in some states.

October 06, 2008|Shari Roan | Times Staff Writer

The reproductive rights of infertile women may not be the target, says Dr. William Schlaff, director of reproductive endocrinology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, "but the implications are massive depending on how this law would be used if adopted."

For instance, what happens to embryos determined to be afflicted with serious genetic diseases? "What do you do with that embryo then?" Schlaff asks.

Says Burton of the initiative's possible ramifications: "All those things would have to be dealt with later on. . . . We don't see it as preventing infertility treatment."


As for the Rathans, over the course of several weeks, the couple ruled out discarding the embryos. They discussed donating them to research but heard that option was a logistical nightmare. They pondered giving the embryos to another infertile couple.

"Before I became pregnant, I thought the decision would be easier for me," Gina Rathan says. "But when it actually happened, I realized these are three potential lives."

Finally, the couple paid for three more years of cryopreservation.

"I think about the embryos every day," Rathan says. "I am their mother. I see them as my own children. They are the DNA from my husband and I. It's something I worry about, especially when the three years is over and I have to make a decision again."




Embryo legislation, by state

Proposed bills that would change the legal status of frozen embryos:

Colorado: Amendment to the state constitution would define a fertilized human egg as a person. On November ballot.

Indiana: Bill would allow an abandoned embryo to be adopted for implantation under certain and specific circumstances; would make destruction of an abandoned human embryo a misdemeanor. Pending action.

West Virginia: Bill would prohibit frozen embryos from being moved out of the state and bar their destruction. Pending action.

New Jersey: Bill would prohibit fertilization of a human ovum unless it's intended to be implanted in a woman's body. Would prohibit destruction of embryos and research on embryos. If a parent dies or decides not to have an embryo implanted, the embryo would become a ward of the state. Pending action.

Georgia: Bill would provide legal status for the embryo. Pending action.

Montana: Petition for the November ballot amending the state constitution would define human life as beginning at the moment of conception. Petition failed.

Federal: HR 4157 from Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), the Sanctity of Human Life Act, would define life as beginning with fertilization, and thus an embryo would "have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood." Pending; referred to subcommittee.

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