Amendment 48 would require dramatic changes to the treatment of fertilized eggs in laboratory settings, including fertility clinics and research facilities. Such changes further illustrate the harm Amendment 48 would inflict on real people as well as the absurdities that arise from granting legal rights to fertilized eggs.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that nationally, “about 12% of women of childbearing age in the United States have used an infertility service.” Fertility treatments account for more than one percent of all U.S. births. In 2005, the 422 fertility clinics evaluated helped women deliver 52,041 infants. The seven clinics in Colorado helped around 820 women deliver babies. In Colorado, the clinic with the most treatments in 2005 was the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine in Englewood.23 Because of the fertility treatments offered by that center, 690 women became pregnant in 2007.24 So 690 women had the chance to become mothers who otherwise would not have borne children, thanks to these fertility treatments. Without them, their children would not exist today.
One might think that those who claim to “respect life” wouldn’t want to outlaw all those births, yet Amendment 48 would do just that.
Nearly all fertility treatments involve fertilizing a woman’s eggs in the laboratory. The Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine explains how its services work: generally “the eggs and several thousand sperm are placed together in a dish which contains a nutrient liquid. These dishes are kept in an incubator overnight and are examined under the microscope on the morning after the egg retrieval to determine which eggs have fertilized normally.”25 “Three to five days after egg collection, the embryos are placed inside the woman’s uterus. …The number of embryos transferred depends upon the age of the patient, the quality of the embryos and the stage of their development.”26 So what happens if the fertilization process results in more healthy, fertilized eggs than the clinic implants into the woman?
Some couples are fortunate enough to collect a large number of embryos from one egg collection. Any remaining viable embryos that are not transferred into the woman’s uterus during the month of treatment may be frozen (“cryopreserved”) in small tubes and kept in storage in the embryo laboratory for future use. Cryopreservation allows the patient to limit the number of embryos transferred “fresh” without discarding the unused embryos that could lead to a future pregnancy. The embryos may be kept in storage for several years.27
The critical point is that not all of the embryos are transferred to the woman’s uterus: that is where the process would run afoul of Amendment 48. Embryos in the lab could not be allowed to perish, nor languish in cold storage, as they would be persons with rights. (Frozen embryos only remain viable a few years.) So fertility clinics would be left with two options. They could fertilize one egg at a time, vastly raising the costs and time of the procedure because most eggs don’t fertilize. Or they could implant all fertilized eggs into the woman, in some cases posing a health risk or producing more children than a couple can raise well. The practical result of Amendment 48 likely would be to shut down Colorado’s seven reproductive clinics.
Consider, though, how Amendment 48 would change the legal status of all the frozen embryos now in existence: they would suddenly become “persons” under the law, with all the rights of born infants. Presumably, women would be forced to implant or donate for implantation all of these existing embryos—or face criminal charges. Moreover, if the biological parents of a frozen embryo die, presumably the embryo has full rights of inheritance, thereby reducing the share of any born children, though how the frozen embryo will grow up to collect remains a problem. This fantastical scenario highlights the absurdity of treating a fertilized egg as a person in the law. However, the farce of granting legal rights to frozen embryos ought not obscure the much more important point: fertility treatments bestow the gift of a child to many hundreds of Colorado women and men each year, a gift that Amendment 48 would smother.
Amendment 48 also would ban all medical research that might harm a fertilized egg—even though it may help save and improve the lives of countless born people. The National Institutes of Health summarizes some of the potential benefits of embryonic stem-cell research:
Stem cells have potential in many different areas of health and medical research. To start with, studying stem cells will help us to understand how they transform into the dazzling array of specialized cells that make us what we are. Some of the most serious medical conditions, such as cancer and birth defects, are due to problems that occur somewhere in this process. A better understanding of normal cell development will allow us to understand and perhaps correct the errors that cause these medical conditions.
Another potential application of stem cells is making cells and tissues for medical therapies. …Pluripotent stem cells [isolated from human embryos that are a few days old] offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat a myriad of diseases, conditions, and disabilities including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.28
In the name of “respecting life,” the advocates of Amendment 48 would impose a death sentence on the real people whose lives might be saved through such research.
Originally published by the Coalition for Secular Government. The Coalition advocates government solely based on secular principles of individual rights. The protection of a person’s basic rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness — including freedom of religion and conscience — requires a strict separation of church and state.
Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life