Since it was pioneered in 1978, in-vitro fertilization has been a blessing to the families of approximately four million children who have been brought into the world as a result of it. But Mississippi's proposed "Personhood Amendment" threatens to end IVF practice in the state if voters say "yes" to Initiative 26 on November 8.
That's because the process of in-vitro fertilization involves multiple microscopic eggs being fertilized in a lab in order for a couple to have a reasonable chance at getting pregnant. After three-to-five days, some of the eggs are transferred to a woman's uterus with the hope that one will implant and result in a pregnancy. But in the process, extra fertilized eggs are often left over; these eggs are frozen and stored in the event that further attempts at implantation are necessary. Some are damaged in the process, many are never used. But since the Personhood Amendment would define a fertilized egg as a legal 'person,' anything that endangers them, such as freezing, could be considered a criminal violation.
And that's despite the fact that most fertilized eggs never even become pregnancies. As Dr. Randall Hines, a fertility specialist in Jackson, pointed out to the New York Times, the egg would be considered a 'person' before it even became a pregnancy.
"Once you recognize that the majority of fertilized eggs don't become people, then you recognize how absurd this amendment is," Hines said.
But that isn't stopping the proponents of Initiative 26.
"It would ban some current practices of IVF," conceded Personhood USA President Keith Mason, explaining that doctors would no longer be able to harvest and fertilize multiple eggs. "You create life that you're willing to give life to."
In other words, if Personhood have their way, doctors could harvest and fertilize no more eggs than a woman was willing to have possibly implanted. That would make the fertilizing of multiple numbers of eggs impossible — except, of course, for potential octomoms.
In practice, IVF would no longer be a feasible option for infertile couples. Infertility treatment would become far less effective and far more dangerous. John Issacs, who is a reproductive endocrinologist and the head of the Mississippi Fertility Institute in Jackson, explains:
"We take eggs out of the ovaries. We fertilize them with the sperm. But we have to fertilize more than one egg. Of the ones that do fertilize, not all are going to grow into embryos. That's why we have to start with a large number of eggs to give someone reasonable chance of pregnancy. We watch them as they grow into embryos. So to define a human being as a fertilized egg — that butts heads with the biologic reality that most fertilized eggs don't result in a live birth."
That would certainly hurt women like Ann, a self-described "pro-life" woman who told her story on the Parents Against MS 26 website. After one unsuccessful IVF cycle in which 21 eggs were retrieved, she still has not been able to achieve pregnancy.
"I will need another IVF cycle if not 2 or 3 more to achieve my dream of becoming a mother," she wrote. "I cannot afford to do IVF if I can only have 2-3 eggs fertilized. I would never have a transfer."
The procedure can cost around $18,000 per cycle.
"I am pro-life but this amendment is poorly written," she said. "It has so many unintended consequences. One of those consequences would mean no more IVF treatment for me (within the state, anyway)."
Keith Mason dismisses such whining, as he surely must perceive it. Despite the fact that three out of the four doctors who perform IVF in the state have come out against Initiative 26, and despite the fact that numerous medical professionals have corroborated Ann's fears as to what the initiative could do, Mason is adamant:
"We have regulations to protect human life. Personhood would create a need for regulation to protect human life in the IVF process. It may not be as financially lucrative for the IVF physician, but that shouldn't matter when we're dealing with human lives."
So despite their claims that the campaign against 26 is lying about the danger posed to IVF treatment, leaders from Personhood have explicitly stated that, yes, it would end traditional IVF treatment. In their Personhood booklet, Personhood USA explains that "a personhood amendment would make the intentional killing of embryos an act of murder, but there is some very good news for those who are in need of in-vitro fertilization." That good news, they say, is that "there actually is a way to complete the in-vitro fertilization process without causing the death of the unused embryos. It's called oocyte cryopreservation or egg freezing."
What they don't explain is that oocyte cryopreservation is an experimental procedure in which only 2 out of every 100 thawed eggs results in a baby. In fact, a 2004 study showed that of 772 frozen, unfertilized eggs from 68 patients, only 37% survived thawing. Of that, only 124 fertilized successfully. In the end, the 772 frozen eggs resulted in only 13 babies being born. And even with those poor odds, the oocyte cryopreservation procedure costs $12,000 to $20,000 a pop.
That means that for women like Ann, this procedure would be no more feasible than one that suggests fertilizing only 2-3 eggs at a time. If Initiative 26 passes and the desires of its proponents become law, the infertile 10-15% of Mississippi couples who are yearning to build a family would simply be out of luck. That's not acceptable.
On November 8, vote 'NO' on 26.