CMDA's The Point

The Status of Frozen Children

March 11, 2024

by Jeffrey Barrows, DO, MA (Bioethics)

Anyone paying close attention to current events has likely heard about the Alabama Supreme Court decision declaring that frozen embryos created through IVF are legally children under the state’s constitution. The legal case arose when a person unauthorized by an IVF clinic destroyed frozen embryos from three Alabama couples who later filed a lawsuit against the clinic. The case made its way to the Alabama Supreme Court with the legal question of whether the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act applied to these frozen embryos. The question before the Alabama Supreme Court was not whether an embryo qualified as an unborn child; rather, in this case, the legal question was whether an extrauterine embryo qualified as an unborn child.


All of us in the pro-life movement celebrate the court’s decision that the location of the embryo does NOT change its status as an unborn child. It is refreshing to read in the court’s conclusion that:


“The People of Alabama have declared the public policy of this State to be that unborn human life is sacred. We believe that each human being, from the moment of conception, is made in the image of God, created by Him to reflect His likeness. It is as if the People of Alabama took what was spoken of the prophet Jeremiah and applied it to every unborn person in this state: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I sanctified you.’ Jeremiah 1:5 (NKJV 1982).”


While the legal ramifications of this decision for the assisted reproductive technology sector will take months, if not years, to be worked out, as a pro-life Ob/Gyn, I am surprised this case had to go all the way to the Supreme Court of Alabama for resolution. The reason for my surprise is that the Alabama Supreme Court previously ruled in 2011 and 2012 that an unborn child qualified as a “minor child” under the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act. Even the defendants in this case accepted the premise that “unborn child” included embryos.


Rather, the IVF center, acting as the defendant in this case, argued that the frozen embryos were not included under the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act because they were outside the uterus. In other words, their location changed their status. Alabama’s Supreme Court decision affirming that extrauterine embryos are children is an excellent reminder to all of us as pro-life healthcare professionals that the practice of IVF should be undertaken with considerable forethought and prayer.


I learned this lesson the hard way by failing a Christian couple I was helping through the pain of infertility. I vividly remember them coming into my office after going through an infertility workup, concluding there was a tubal factor in the wife preventing her from becoming pregnant. Everything else was normal, so they were left with two options. Either they could proceed with IVF, or they could begin the process of adoption. On this particular day, they came to see me in order to find out my Christian view of IVF. We had often talked about Christ as I knew they also were faithful Christians, but when they wanted my opinion on IVF as a Christian rather than as an OB/Gyn, I failed them because I had not given it enough forethought to properly counsel them.


Here is what I would tell that couple today.


I would start the conversation by strongly suggesting that, as a couple, they spend considerable time in prayer before the Lord to learn whether He wants them to undergo IVF or perhaps instead invest their time and finances in adoption. Should they feel led by the Lord to attempt IVF, I would remind them that the process of IVF creates tiny children. Those tiny children have immeasurable value and, therefore, should be treated with the utmost care. I would strongly recommend they not freeze any embryos but plan to implant all the embryos created through the union of their gametes. This would likely go against the recommendations of the IVF specialist, who may even refuse to provide IVF under those conditions.


I would encourage them to maintain their stance against the pressure of creating frozen embryos by reminding them that embryos are tiny children, and the freezing process is not without harm. They may need to investigate various IVF clinics to find one willing to work with them. They should also avoid preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), since it is not without risk and adds cost to the procedure. Instead, they should rely on the Lord’s provision in allowing the embryos He desires to implant and survive in early pregnancy.


I am incredibly thankful for the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision to affirm the commonsense conclusion that frozen embryos are children. My hope and ongoing prayer as this decision sends shockwaves through the assisted reproductive sector is that a new respect and understanding for the immeasurable value of embryos will arise, which will decrease the demand for freezing embryos but, instead, increase the demand for embryo adoption at Christian IVF centers like the National Embryo Donation Center.

Jeffrey Barrows, DO, MA (Bioethics)

About Jeffrey Barrows, DO, MA (Bioethics)

Jeffrey J. Barrows, DO, MA (Ethics), serves as Senior Vice President of Bioethics and Public Policy for Christian Medical & Dental Associations. Dr. Barrows is an obstetrician/gynecologist, author, educator, medical ethicist and speaker. He completed his medical degree at the Des Moines College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery in 1978 and his residency training in obstetrics and gynecology at Doctors Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.


  1. Avatar RIchard Davis on April 11, 2024 at 5:57 am

    Brief question, not meaning to be argumentative at all: Could you summarize the thinking and reasoning that states that a fertilized embryo is the same as a person? It seems to me that the key event, required for “personhood,” is implantation. In normal processes, this does not happen 100% of the time or anywhere near that (as far as we can tell- a Google search yields low numbers but acknowledges confusion on this issue.)

    For one example, the attitude behind conventional IVF is clearly that a fertilized embryo is not a person until it has implanted, so it’s ok to insert several fertilized embryos, to maximize the chances that one or more will implant. In this article you argue against that. Another example would be the “morning after pill” whose mechanism of action is to make implantation less likely. Is this just a form of contraception, or the destruction of a human being?

    Christian ethicists, including yourself, would be against both of these practices on the grounds that a fertilized embryo is the same as a human being. Can you provide a justification of this stance? “…you knitted me in my mother’s womb” is not enough in my opinion: as a Christian I am not yet convinced that a fertilized embryo floating in the fallopian tubes or uterus is the same as an implanted one, which is the same as a developing one with a heartbeat, which is the same as a tiny child with eyes, a face, arms, legs etc. Please tell me why Christians should not draw the line at implantation as the stage where life begins. Can you justify further the claim that a fertilized embryo is a “tiny child?”

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