Eli Reshef MD
On November 8, Mississippi voters are likely to pass a constitutional amendment that will grant a fetus the status of a person. Such “personhood” legislation has failed to acquire traction in elsewhere, yet Mississippi is likely to be the first state in the nation to institute a far-reaching decree that has the potential for grave unintended consequences to the field of reproductive medicine. Granting a status of a person to any human biological entity beyond (and including) a fertilized egg will score a major victory for anti-abortion forces, yet this personhood amendment has split the anti-abortion forces nationally. Traditional leaders of the anti-abortion camp, including National Right to Life and the Roman Catholic bishops, consider this legislative tactic reckless and likely to fail a constitutional challenge, thus undermining their attempt to reverse Roe v. Wade.
In nature, a minority of fertilized human eggs become babies. The remainder is genetically defective and most are therefore spontaneously miscarried. By the new definition, a miscarriage is essentially an unexplained death of a “person”. Must the state then issue a death certificate, investigate every pregnancy loss, and consider the womb a crime scene or require a coroner’s report? If we bestow a person status on any embryo, must we then transfer any embryo, healthy or not, into the womb during the in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure? Should a laboratory technician be prosecuted for murder if some embryos do not survive laboratory conditions?
The 14th Amendment instructs us to carry out a census every 10 years. Must we then count all embryo “persons” in frozen storage in IVF labs throughout the U.S. to fulfill this requirement? Regardless of where one stands on the abortion issue, “personhood” legislation is poorly conceived and will have far-reaching negative impact on individual and societal interests. In the 2011 legislative session, local physicians assisted by ASRM, SART, and RESOLVE lobbied hard with the Oklahoma legislature to successfully defeat a “personhood” bill. Ironically, it was probably objections from the anti-abortion lobby that truly helped defeat that bill. Reproductive endocrinologists must actively lobby in their states to defeat “personhood” legislation for the sake of their mission and their patients. One must not rely on the premise that such legislation may fail constitutional muster. Contact your legislature and educate your lawmakers if “personhood” attempts rear their head in your state- reproductive medicine is truly in jeopardy if they succeed!