Colorado Amendment 62 pits embryo against mother

November 2, 2010Carole 4 Comments »

On election day 2010, the people of Colorado will be asked to vote on a proposed amendment to their state constitution, which if passed, will define personhood this way: “the term ‘person’ shall apply to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.” A similar amendment was roundly defeated in 2008 by Colorado voters.

You can see the YES Amendment 62 position here.

You can see the NO Amendment 62 position here.

The first result of this amendment would be to ban all abortion for any reason. However,  defining a fertilized egg as a person would also almost certainly impact and possibly eliminate IVF services in Colorado. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine called on Colorado voters to vote against this amendment.

Here are some of the questions that arise if a fertilized egg is deemed a person:

  • Would a woman be required to transfer every fertilized egg that is produced in an IVF cycle, even if medically dangerous to the woman? How can you deny the rights of a “person” to exist?
  • Would use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) be banned because it can be used to select against a “person” ? All genetically abnormal embryos must be given an equal chance to implant as “persons”, right?
  • Could doctors be sued if a “person” didn’t develop past the fertilized egg stage?
  • Are “persons” in the embryo freezer heirs to estates?
  • Who is responsible for abandoned “persons” in the cryostorage banks? The state? The lab? Do embryos need guardian ad litem representation?
  • An ectopic pregnancy would contain a “person” and so couldn’t be terminated, even if the tube ruptures and kills both the mother and the “person”.
  • If a pregnant woman develops cancer, will she be required to delay any cancer treatment until the “person” is born even if the cancer kills her in the mean time? (This happened in one of my programs. A patient found out she was pregnant and had cancer within the same two week period. She had to choose between delaying chemo (and likely causing her own death) and abortion of a new pregnancy she desperately wanted. This dreadful medical dilemma was bad enough for this family. If this Colorado state law passes, the state constitution, not the family involved would make these medical decisions- likely in favor of the embryo. The current amendment has no exceptions to this definition and its implications).

Does defining an embryo as a person make the woman less than a person? Under the proposed amendment, the embryo’s rights would trump the woman’s rights in all these scenarios. Embryos rights would trump mother’s rights even though without the woman’s intervention and full-bodied support, an embryonic “person” could never be born. No law can cause an embryo to grow into a fetus and then an infant. Only a woman can do that, through the generous gift of her body, yet she counts for less in the eyes of this proposed law than the fertilized egg.

Furthermore, the amendment is unclear- what really constitutes the “biological beginnings” of a person? The earlier defeated amendment in 2008 referred specifically to a fertilized egg but this language was avoided in the new proposal.  If we are going molecular to define personhood,we might as easily choose another molecular milestone. One might argue that a person’s biological beginnings arose from the development of the egg and the sperm. Baby girls are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have so the “biological beginnings ” of their own future children originated before their own birth!  Sperm take approximately 75 days to go from stem cell to functioning sperm cell  so the biological beginnings of an embryo originated almost three months before conception if you look at the male lineage. Under this scenario, would monthly menstruation and masturbation which destroy the “biological beginnings” of personhood become crimes against persons? Obviously, this is ridiculous but begs the question, what type of society do we want to live in? Who decides “who”, “when”, and “how” people can have families? The state or the families involved?

The whole argument is really about abortion, obviously, but ironically, a medical advancement that has brought four million new lives into this world (and whose founder was just honored with a Nobel prize) may be extinguished by this amendment. How many fewer persons will be conceived then?

Post-election update: Colorado Amendment 62 was defeated in 2010, by the same 3:1 margin as in 2008.

© 2010 – 2011, Carole. All rights reserved.

4 Responses to this entry

  • Bob Enyart Says:

    Hello FLI! Hey, would you like to ask your questions on the radio today at 3 p.m. on Denver’s 50,000-watt AM 670 KLTT? If so, please email Bob@KGOV.com with your contact info.

  • gingerandlime Says:

    This is a great post. Thank you for sharing it. It lays out so clearly what the issues are and never loses sight of the personhood of the woman involved. I love that you looked at the arbitrary nature of fixing on the fertilized egg as the moment personhood begins–after all, we in the ALI community know that it is absolutely possible to be “a little bit pregnant,” and from chemical to ectopic to early pregnancy loss to frozen embryos, there are all sorts of situations in which a fertilized egg doesn’t result in a pregnancy, let alone a baby.

  • Carole Says:

    Thank you so much for your comment. This topic is so difficult and you are right that almost everyone finds themselves considering some aspect of this issue in their infertility journey.

  • Anonymous Says:

    It is absurd to suggest that people who are not born exist as individuals to be protected. Eggs and sperm and even embryos are part of the the body they originated from. Those cells belong to the person. The person is alive as long as those cells are kept alive. Clearly you cannot reproduce if your dead, your cells have to be alive in order to reproduce – part of you is on life support when part of you is on ice. So calling the cells from one person’s body, like they are an entirely separate person is just pointless. If they are worried about people having a right to something once they are born then focus on making the born individuals quality of life better or whatever.

    See the embryo by rites belongs to the body of the woman that produced the egg its a group of cells that are being artifically supported outside her body but they belong to her – in my eyes until they are born those cells are part of her body. If she chooses to have another woman gestate them that is her business but I don’t think that husbands and wives should jointly own embryos they are her cells that go in her body.

    Here is the big problem in reality pregnancy follows shortly thereafter the whole sexual reproduction thing and its a done deal. when you put someone’s eggs sperm or embryo on ice its like time is somehow suspended and it lets people control other people’s bodies when they were never meant to do that.

    It use to be a man donated sperm it was fresh, he understood that a pregnancy might result and that max the lady might have triplettts, but he was in control of his reproductive behavior to the same extent he would be had he deliberately chosen to get his wife pregnant. When the labs freeze the stuff he is no longer providing a reproductive service that he controls he is selling a living piece of his body and will allow someone else to control it. Same with eggs and same with embryos. Its the freezing interferes with personal autonomy and personal autonomy keeps the offspring numbers down. freezing allows the bodies of the donors to be commodified and essentially owned for as long as their cells last. Long after their bodies and brains are gone. Same with embryos. Freezing is the first thing we might want to do away with if the practice continues.

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