“Personhood” Legislation and Amendments

Dawn Davenport


What You Need to Know about "Personhood" Legislation and Amendments

What You Need to Know about “Personhood” Legislation and Amendments

I received a call from a friend on the Resolve Advocacy Committee last week asking me to help spread the word about a constitutional amendment in Mississippi that can have a huge impact on the availablity of infertility treatment in that state.  Although this time it only affects Mississippi, this same type of legistation or amendment may well turn up in your state.  This committee has worked tirelessly to make us aware of how seemingly simple words can have drastic uninteded impacts.  As we talked I realized that they would be far better at explaining all this to you, so I am happy to turn this blog over to them today.

From the Resolve Advocacy Committee:

Unless you follow reproductive politics very closely, you may have missed the proliferation of “personhood” measures proposed in state legislatures throughout the U.S. during the past five years.  “Personhood” is the idea of assigning rights to a microscopic embryo—the same rights guaranteed to you or your husband or co-worker.  You may think “personhood” has nothing to do with you or your family. Indeed, you may think “personhood” is all about abortion rights and your beliefs on that topic are sacrosanct and unbending. But, the reality is, whether you consider yourself pro-life or pro-choice, “personhood”  affects everyone who has gone through infertility.
RESOLVE: the National Infertility Association follows these personhood initiatives closely and often asks constituents to contact their elected officials to express their opinion. In some cases, the personhood measure is in the form of a constitutional amendment in which the public votes directly.  A “personhood” measure in Colorado was defeated by popular vote, two separate years, by a large margin but in a few weeks, Mississippi voters will be asked to vote yes or no, on the following:

Initiative #26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to define the word “person” or “persons”, as those terms are used in Article III of the state constitution, to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.

It certainly sounds innocuous but what are they really being asked?  Why does this impact infertility patients? Because Mississippi voters are being asked to make medical infertility treatment
decisions for other families.

On November 8, 2011, when Mississippi residents cast their votes for their next governor, they will  be asked to render embryo disposition decisions for Mississippians who have completed their families but may have unused embryos in cryopreservation—telling them what they can and cannot do with their unused embryos. They will be asked to tell the infertility physicians in their state who
have collectively practiced medicine to the current professional standards in their field for more than fifty years, exactly how and when they can now practice medicine. They will be telling infertility patients that the current standard of medical treatment for infertility is not right and will be prescribing 1970’s –style medicine as the answer.
But they don’t know any of that. Most voters think they are just being asked to support the idea that life begins at conception.  But Initiative 26 goes much further than that and, for infertility patients, is actually anti-family.

At least one in every eight couples of childbearing age will have trouble achieving or maintaining a pregnancy. Infertility does not discriminate—it can strike anyone of any age, race, sex, religious affiliation or income level. We do not know who may need advanced treatment for infertility but we do know that IVF is a medical treatment which has been practiced for more than thirty years and has brought millions of babies into the world. Families built through IVF are no different than other families and should not be singled out to make a political point.

If embryos are full human children, anything that puts an embryo at risk could be a violation of law, even if the goal is the undeniable social good of helping someone have a baby. This law could impair or prevent doctors from practicing IVF in accord with the best standards of medical care, because those same standards may be deemed to pose too great a risk to embryos. We do not know which procedures may be determined illegal because of the possible risk to embryos but one thing is
certain: this bill will destroy a physician’s ability to practice good medicine. Doctors will eventually be forced to practice elsewhere.

Here are some of the questions that passage of Initiative 26 would pose:

1.  What happens if an embryo fails to develop in the laboratory?  Sometimes embryos will arrest and will cease to grow on day 1 or 2 of culture.  If these embryos are full human beings, will that event be a wrongful death or manslaughter?

2. Will embryo cryopreservation be permitted?  Ordinarily, one cannot freeze “human beings.”  If there can be no cryopreservation, then doctors and patients will be in a quandary: what if they have 5 viable embryos?  Would they all have to be transferred to the uterus, which could result in quintuplets?

3.  Will IVF then have to be practiced “Italian-style,” meaning that only 2 or 3 eggs could even be fertilized and all that do fertilize will have to be transferred?  But that is inferior medical practice, below the standard of care in this country.  It means the government will be making these complex medical decisions for patients.  Moreover, we know that Italian-style IVF fails more often while the rate of triplets (who are almost always born premature and small) skyrockets.  In other
words, it leads to poor outcomes for mothers and babies.

4.  What about the disposition of already-frozen embryos?  If there are persons with a right to life, will they have the right to be transferred to someone’s womb?  What if the biological parents have finished building their family – could they be forced to give their embryos to another woman for impregnation?

These are troubling questions and the answers are unclear.  What IS clear that with the prospect of intense governmental scrutiny of their medical practice and the threat of criminal sanctions, doctors will not want to practice reproductive medicine in MS and will leave.

It is estimated that more than 70% of natural pregnancies are not viable. Most of these end in either a very early miscarriage or the woman simply has her monthly cycle. In either case, most of these women never knew they were pregnant. Infertility patients that have to use IVF to achieve a pregnancy are being singled out.  Everyone creates unused embryos through the natural reproductive process in their own bodies.  Because of the necessity of their medical treatment,
infertility patients know when an embryo has been created and could now be held liable if their body does the same thing that another woman’s body does naturally.

Please help the voters in Mississippi make an educated decision. Read more about Initiative 26 at RESOLVE’s “Center for Infertility Justice.  A wonderful Mississippi mom has started Parents against MS26. Talk to people you know in Mississippi. Post about this on your Facebook accounts. But most of all, if you are in MS, vote no on Initiative 26. The time has come for everyone to take a stand for infertility patients everywhere. Say no to “personhood.”

Image credit: Great Education Colorado

18/10/2011 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 18 Comments

18 Responses to “Personhood” Legislation and Amendments

  1. Avatar Isandhya says:

    I am very satisfied with your site and your posts they very nice and very help us. Thanks for sharing the best posts they very nice and very useful to us. You made a good site and giving us such a good information on this topic it’s very important one

  2. Avatar Terri Davidson says:

    Thanks Dawn for posting this and providing your diverse group of readers and followers with this information.

  3. Avatar Brie says:

    Dawn, sorry to take so long to answer you here. Yes, it’s not as bad if a person only creates and transfers one embryo, but I am still not an IVF proponent. There are a lot of “if this, then this” issues that go on with IVF that put folks in murky ethical situations. I get the idea that this bill also presented some sticky issues as you and some of the comments brought up, so it probably was good that it did not pass. But I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater on this (okay, maybe a BAD phrase to use with this topic!). It can be rewritten so that it’s original intent is followed. I think our society has slipped down a slope of playing God that is getting harder and harder to backpeddle out of. Enough said. Thanks again for bringing up the issues….it’s real good stuff to think about!

  4. Avatar frazy says:

    I’ve been absent for some time, however now I remember why I love this web site. Appreciate it, I will be back more frequently.

  5. Avatar RC says:

    Very helpful info. I live in a neighboring state, but we all need to be aware that it is coming to our states as well. thank you so much for letting us know about the effects of this legislation. I like the others, did not know it would affect my ability to have a child.

  6. Avatar MrsH says:

    This is a really interesting post, and I am so thankful that you brought it up. We don’t have such issues in Canada at the moment, at least not impending and with a serious chance of being a real issue, like in Mississippi. I hope that the voters become aware of the implications to infertile couples. It is a big topic. I can’t even express any opinions, given that I have used IVF many times and hence I am not detached and neutral and we all know what I am going to say 🙂
    ICLW 48

  7. You make a number of great points here. I think there are a few more possibilities:
    • How will a physician treat an ectopic pregnancy knowing that the procedure will result in the death of an embryo?
    • Will IUD’s have to be removed because it can work as a post conception form of contraception? Morning after bill removed from the store shelves?
    • Will transport facilities cease transporting cryopreserved embryos in and out of Mississippi for fear of a rare accident resulting in criminal prosecution?
    • How many women will go underground to have an abortion? How many will not go as planned resulting in the emergency rooms being the last point of entry for women dying from sepsis or blood loss?

    Personally, I’d like to create some embryos to build families through IVF and then give them to the patients to care for them since they will be, in essence, their children. If they should die under their watch, however, let them be responsible and not me or my lab.

    The concerns are limitless but the certainties unknown. I understand there are 12 other states in the cross-hairs of this same process and a proactive approach will be needed rather than waiting to respond to the onslaught of problems.

    If the “personhood” amendment does pass and gain momentum, it will be time to organize and rally unlike we have had to do before.

    Keep up the great work and count me in.

  8. Avatar MSmom says:

    I am torn on this vote. I am very pro life. I have experienced secondary infertility myself and have carefully considered IVF. At this point I have chosen not to do it. My biggest concern is that I do believe in life at conception and could not authorize embryos to be created and not implanted into my womb. I do think often legistlators pass laws when the full ramifications have not been thought out. This may be the case here. I do live in MS and will be voting. I am still on the fence about this vote.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      MSmom, I appriciate your dilemma. Keep in mind that it is possible to create only the number of embryos that you want to transfer–in other words, likely no more than two. The disadvantage is primarily cost and the impact on your body having to go through another stimulation cycle if the two embryos either don’t grow or neither implant once transferred. The cost issue is huge for many people since they can only afford to go through the full IVF cycle once and want to increase the odds of ending up with a baby at the end. I agree that it is difficult to see all the ramifications when drafting legislation, which is why I’m thankful for the Advocacy folks at Resolve for pointing out what may well have been an unintended consequence. Infertility is such a devastating disease. It seems so unfair to prevent treatment. By the way, have you considered embryo donation as a way to build your family? It is significantly less expensive that either IVF or most types of adoption (other than adopting from foster care, which is also a terrific family building option). It is not a form of “fertility treatment”, and you would be parenting a child that is not genetically related to you, but it is an option to think about. We have extensive resources on this option at https://creatingafamily.org/infertility-resources/embryo-donationadoption.

  9. Avatar S says:

    I just want to weigh in as someone who used IVF with PGD to prevent a devastating genetic disease from being passed to our child. I feel like the elimination of this very real, medical suffering – vs the argument of the sanctity of life for a then non-sentient being – is something that is lost in debates about reproductive ethics. If this legislation comes to our state, I’ll fight it tooth and nail.

  10. I know this is off topic of IVF but couldn’t the personhood bill also affect current preventative birth control off the table as well? IUD, the Pill, NOT talking about the morning after – talking standard birth control measures to prevent pregnancy from ever happening.

    I do think it is a question even people with infertility need to think about who become parents through IVF. Do you want your children to have the right to be proactive and choose when to procreate? Does personhood change the options available?

  11. Avatar John says:

    Thank you for allowing Resolve to share this information with us. Fascinating!!! I’ll be checking out the links that you gave.

  12. Brie, thanks for your comment.  When it comes to the number of children, At a major medical conference in 2005, the International Committee for Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ICMART) reported that the number of IVF babies worldwide was approximately 3 million.
    http://www.ivf.net/ivf/three-million-ivf-babies-born-worldwide-o2105.html.  It is probably safe to assume that the number is closer to 4 million babies by now.

    Thanks also for sharing your personal beliefs about fertility treatment.  We fully respect that some people may hold beliefs that cause them to decline in vitro fertilization or other treatments (for example, some religions forbid blood transfusions). It’s important to recognize that those beliefs are not universal, however, and it doesn’t seem to us, as we advocate for infertility patient’s rights and interests, that other people should be denied a life-giving medical treatment that has brought the joy of family to so many people on that basis.  For that reason, we do not believe these fertility treatments should be restricted or banned by the government via Initiative 26, and individuals should choose or not choose medical treatments in accord with their beliefs.

  13. Avatar randi says:

    Wow, I had no idea this is what these legislations that talk about embryos as persons did. I thought I was in favor of them because I think of them as people, but I didn’t realize that it would affect IVF so much. People should be able to try to have a child by IVF without politicians making it harder than it already is. thank you for this information.

  14. Avatar Brie says:

    Wow, Dawn, you must have hit SUCH a hot topic – the silence is deafening. I’ll start off the discussion to get it going here. First off – “We do not know who may need advanced treatment for infertility but we do know that IVF is a medical treatment which has been practiced for more than thirty years and has brought millions of babies into the world.” – Is this really true? Do you have documentation to support the millions number?

    Secondly, I know my opinion isn’t popular but I fall on the side of “extreme pro-lifers”/many Catholics in that I don’t believe IVF is a smart way to form a family, precisely because of the sticky “personhood” issues it creates. Okay, let the debate fly!

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Brie, thanks so much for starting the discussion. I’ll leave the Resolve authors to address your specific questions since they are the experts. I do have a question for you. Would you object to IVF if only one embryo was created and was transferred?

  15. Avatar JohnA says:

    The State of Georgia tried to pass a similar piece of legislature a few years ago. I don’t think the legislators truly understand the untended consequences of their purposed law. The GA law would have put MDs that practiced IVF in jail for assault/murder for trying to make women pregnant for each embryo that failed to develop into a healthy baby. I know that was not the intentions of the legislators in GA and I’m going to bet that was not the intent of the legislators in Mississippi. I really don’t think man can create such a law and should not try.

  16. Avatar Robin Boyles says:

    As a citizen of Mississippi and someone that is staunchly opposed to this amendment, thank you for posting this and making others aware of the battle we are in the midst of in our state. The Personhood USA folks have targeted MS as we are viewed as a weak state and they are counting on us to not educate ourselves and vote to pass this dangerous amendment. Our legislators are not willing to oppose it for fear of the political backlash. Those of us that have vocally opposed it, have been called “pro-abortionists” and “non-Christians.” We have found that there are many people that have placed Yeson26 signs in their yards, that have no clue whatsoever as to the unintended (intended?) consequences of the amendment. It is a cultural battle that we are up against in that we are having to work hard to get the message out that opposing this amendment IS the moral thing to do and it is acceptable to voice opposition to this amendment and it is does not mean you are immoral or un-Christian! Many of us are tired of being on the bottom of the ‘good’ lists and the top of the ‘bad’ lists and see this amendment, if passed, as having tremendous social and economic repercussions to our already distressed State.

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