Views held by Paul Ryan – the man chosen by US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney to be his running mate – that life begins at fertilisation have caused a media furore in North America.
Ryan is a co-sponsor of the Sanctity of Human Life Act, which has been reintroduced to the House of Representatives and that states 'human life shall be deemed to begin with fertilisation'.
Under the proposed law, embryos discarded during IVF would become 'murder victims', commented US political magazine Mother Jones. The magazine said, if it became law, the Act 'would make Romney's kids criminals' since three of them have relied on IVF treatment in order to become parents.
During IVF multiple embryos are often created that may not all be implanted during one cycle of treatment. These 'spare' embryos can either be frozen and stored for future use, used by other prospective parents, used in research, or destroyed.
If passed, the Sanctity of Human Life Act would 'criminalise IVF', said The Daily Beast, a US news and opinion website – something which Amy Goodman in the Guardian reflected on: 'As reported in Mother Jones, this law would make normal IVF practices illegal', she said.
However, other journalists are calling much of the attention 'bad reporting', claiming that the media has distorted Ryan's Act. There is no evidence that Ryan believes in criminalising IVF and that 'efforts to imply otherwise in order to create a neat little conflict... are misleading and irresponsible', Marni Soupcoff said in the Canadian National Post.
Soupcoff suggests that while the Sanctity of Life Act undoubtedly attempts to grant full human rights to fetuses as well as embryos, this simply 'pav[es] the way for outlawing both abortion and the destruction of embryos created outside the womb through artificial reproductive technology', rather than making the procedure illegal.
Her comment piece berates the Mother Jones article's author for jumping to the conclusion that Ryan, by extension of the Act, wants to lock up Romney's children.
In fact, Soupcoff highlights that a prohibition on destroying or conducting research on unused embryos created via IVF is a change that would not make IVF 'impossible or even particularly difficult'. Those who do have embryos left over after their procedure, which is not always the case, may still choose to preserve or donate them.
As previously reported in BioNews 633 and 655, both Mississippi voters and the Oklahoma Supreme Court have in recent months prevented constitutional amendments to expand the definition of personhood to include fertilised embryos.
Indeed, Soupcoff remarks that the Sanctity of Life Act is deemed by govtrack.us – a US website that tracks the progress of bills and members of the US Congress – 'to have a one percent chance of being enacted'.