Alabama Supreme Court rules frozen embryos are ‘children' in 'wrongful deaths' case

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An individual holding an IVF bottle ready to be frozen. — Los Angeles Reproductive Center
An individual holding an IVF bottle ready to be frozen. — Los Angeles Reproductive Center

Alabama's Supreme Court recently ruled that frozen embryos are children under state law and subject to legislation concerning the wrongful death of minors, CBS News reported.

This comes after a lawsuit was filed by in vitro fertilization (IVF) patients whose frozen embryos were destroyed in December 2020 when a patient dropped them on the ground.

The plaintiffs had filed two lawsuits against the Center for Reproductive Medicine, alleging it violated Alabama's "Wrongful Death of a Minor" Act which applies to unborn children and alleged negligence.

They also sought compensatory damages, but the claims of negligence were only applicable if Alabama courts or the United States Supreme Court ruled frozen embryos were not children.

The trial court dismissed the lawsuits on the defendant’s motion, stating that a frozen embryo did not fit the "definition of a 'person' or 'child.'"

The court also ruled that plaintiffs could not seek compensatory damages for loss of a human life and emotional damages, citing Alabama's legal standards.

In its decision, the Alabama Supreme Court did not address the question of whether "extrauterine children" should be treated as human beings but did find that state law did not specify what state an unborn child is to be in.

"The relevant statutory text is clear: the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act applies on its face to all unborn children, without limitation," the court’s decision stated.

The court ruled that there is no unwritten exception to the law that applies to "unborn children who are not physically located 'in utero' — that is, — at the time they are killed."

The defendants argued that considering frozen embryos as children would lead to increased costs and difficulties in preserving embryos, potentially making IVF more expensive.

"While we appreciate the defendants' concerns, these types of policy-focused arguments belong before the Legislature, not this Court," the ruling stated.

The ruling was issued by Alabama Supreme Court Justice Jay Mitchell, with seven of the other eight justices concurring.