Since I’ve been following the Georgia legislation inspired by the octuplets case, I thought I’d post an update. The legislation has changed (as legislation is wont to do) and, according to this article, may actually have a chance of passage. I think it would be a relatively dramatic legal innovation (at least in the US) were it to pass.
The story thus far: When Nadya Suleman gave birth to octuplets, the fact that ART was essentially unregulated suddenly became big news. Many people argued that regulation was needed. As I noted a while back, regulation can take many forms. What I tend to worry about is what I think of as opportunisitic regulation. By that I mean regulation that is really advancing some other public policy apart from that present in the octuplet problem but uses this moment of attention to move forward.
The pending Georgia legislation was (and remains) and example of such opportunistic regulation. Originally the bill did a bunch of things that restricted access to ART for lots of people. Additionally, it defined an embryo as a living human being. This last provision was not really surprising, given that primary sponsorship of the bill was attributed to Georgia Right to Life. From what I read the original bill was not given a very high likelihood of enactment.
Now the morphing. That article I linked to (the one here) recounts committee approval of a narrower bill. Most of the early provisions have been stripped out and what remains is that last one I described above–defining an embryo as a living human being. (I’d take a guess that this is actually the provision nearest and dearest to the sponsoring organization’s heart.) This bill, it seems might actually pass.
Note first that this doesn’t really address the octuplet problem at all. As far as I can tell, a woman could go to a clinic and have ten embryos prepared and transferred.
What the bill does do is prevent the destruction of any embryos that are prepared. Thus, if a person (or a couple) prepared four and chose to transfer only two (in order to minimize the risks of multiples) and if that transfer resulted in pregnancy, the couple would be obliged to retain those other two embryos (presumably now frozen) in perpetuity. (I suppose they would be allowed to attempt to have the embryos adopted out–a topic I will address tomorrow, because I stumbled over another news story about that practice.)
Now there are many reasons why a person using IVF might create more embryos than will be used on one attempt and, using something called PIGD or PGD, choose the best quality for transfer. Indeed, because of uncertainties in the process and because of medical procedures used to harvest eggs, I think it is fairly common to prepare more embryos than will be used. Thus, the bill as now constituted would force a substantial change in the way ART is currently done. At the same time, remember, it doesn’t really get to the octuplets problem. I’ll keep an eye on it, but it sure seems to me to be opportunistic regulation.