Personhood Act is anti-family
BY J. CLARK BUNDREN
Friday, February 24, 2012
2/24/12 at 3:15 AM
The Personhood Act passed by the Oklahoma Senate last week is anti-reproduction and anti-family, despite being portrayed as pro-life. The Oklahoma Legislature seeks to regulate an area of medicine that may significantly disrupt the sacred bond between physicians and patients and may further disrupt health-care services for Oklahoma's infertile couples.
In passing the act, these legislators, most of whom are not medical scientists, bioethicists or physicians, have failed to consider the unintended consequences to an important area of medicine.
The law as written has the potential to disrupt management of contraception, pregnancy losses and fertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization (IVF). At the very least, it will significantly alter and limit a couple's choices with respect to reproductive issues.
As an obstetrician/gynecologist who has practiced in the area of reproductive endocrinology and infertility for more than 30 years, including the practice of IVF, I am very concerned that the passage of this bill will have a devastating effect on medical care in Oklahoma.
While legislators allege that this bill will not affect certain infertility and reproductive services, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine believe otherwise.
Numerous physicians from across Oklahoma contacted legislators to raise concerns about the bill, but their views were disregarded. It appears that the legislators, who are not on the front lines of patient care, are mandating treatment decisions in this state.
Under such threat, it may become impossible to offer IVF and related services, thus depriving Oklahomans of future offspring.
- This vague and far-reaching act may severely harm the practice of IVF in Oklahoma, depriving many patients of the chance to become parents.
- This act may dramatically limit women's treatment options with respect to managing the sad but common occurrence of miscarriage, subjecting patients to unnecessary risks.
- Physicians like me may be at constant risk of violating the law, even to the extent of manslaughter or worse, if embryos (now "persons") do not survive in my laboratory.
- As absurd as it may sound, a laboratory technician who is accused of "mishandling" embryos if they do not survive laboratory conditions may be prosecuted for mishandling life.
More than 30 years ago, when I participated in the development of the first IVF program in the U.S. and helped deliver the nation's first IVF baby in Norfolk, Va., I remember Jerry Falwell and other religious leaders picketing our project in Norfolk and condemning us for doing the "work of the devil."
Now, hundreds of thousands of children later, IVF is considered a mainstream infertility treatment and Robert G. Edwards of Great Britain was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his pioneering work in the development of IVF.
However, in Oklahoma, history with respect to "doing the work of the devil" seems to be repeating itself.
At least a similar bill under consideration by the Virginia House of Delegates contains a provision for "lawful assisted conception." A similar provision in Oklahoma is glaringly absent.
Despite the efforts of many physicians to educate legislators of the consequences of their actions, the Senate passed this harmful bill, even in light of opposition by the State Medical Association, ASRM and ACOG. It appears our legislators feel they are more competent to practice medicine than are the state's medical professionals.
In addition to the medical consequences, further consider: The unborn, including embryos in frozen storage in our IVF clinic, now "persons," must be counted as such in each 10-year census. Will such "persons" be taxed? If the biological parents of a frozen embryo die, will the embryo have inheritance rights?
The unintended consequences to the Personhood Act are staggering. While Oklahoma legislators have ignored those of us on the front lines of medical care, perhaps members of the public who will suffer the consequences of this act will bring their voice to the debate.
J. Clark Bundren, M.D. is a tenured associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of reproductive endocrinology/infertility at The University of Oklahoma-Tulsa School of Community Medicine.
J. Clark Bundren: This vague and far-reaching act may severely harm the practice of IVF in Oklahoma, depriving many patients of the chance to become parents.