BONUS 255: Patient Rights During a Pandemic

April 16, 2020

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Today’s bonus episode guest is Catherine Tucker, an infertility survivor, board member of RESOLVE New England, and managing attorney at New Hampshire Surrogacy Law.

Episode Sponsor:

Infertility Coaching with Heather Huhman

Catherine and Heather discuss what legal rights you have as a patient during a pandemic:

INTRODUCTION

  • I’d like to hear a little bit more about you. Tell us about your professional background.
  • What does New Hampshire Surrogacy Law do for clients?
  • I understand you went through infertility yourself. Can you give listeners an overview of your journey to motherhood?
  • How did your struggle with infertility influence the career you have today?

LEGAL RIGHTS

As all listeners know, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine released recommendations on March 17 that clinics suspend all fertility treatments. While they relaxed the guidelines slightly on March 30 to leave the decision between doctor and patient, most clinics have not resumed normal operations.

  • What is the difference between a guideline and a law?
  • Are ASRM’s guidelines legally enforceable? What happens if a fertility clinic doesn’t follow them? Might their professional reputation suffer, such as a poor standing with SART?
  • What is the difference between an elective procedure and a non-elective one? Is there a broadly-accepted definition?
  • Who ultimately has the authority to decide if fertility treatments are elective or not? What if there are conflicting recommendations?
  • ASRM’s guidelines include “continue to care for patients who require urgent stimulation and cryopreservation.” From talking with listeners, ‘urgent stimulation’ does not seem to include women of advanced reproductive age. Similar to my previous question, who decides the definition of ‘urgent’?
  • Legally, do stay-at-home orders have to be followed by fertility clinics and patients? Please explain.
  • What is the official definition of ‘reproductive rights’?
  • To my knowledge, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is not recommending people avoid getting pregnant. So why do the same ‘rules’ not apply to people who need fertility treatments to become pregnant?
  • Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are suing four states over abortion restrictions during the pandemic. Tell us about those lawsuits.
  • Except for those states, Planned Parenthood considered essential. Do we have a right to reproduce? Do we have a right to fertility treatments? Or do reproductive rights only apply to prevent and terminate reproduction? As one listener put it, “we too are trying to ‘plan parenthood,’ and for some of us, waiting a few months WILL make a difference.”
  • Many listeners are conflicted between being responsible citizens during this pandemic and advocating for their own personal medical needs. Do you have any advice for them?
  • Many patients travel out of state for fertility treatments. Right now, even if a clinic is open, they are recommending patients don’t travel. However, legally, if patients are healthy, can they be turned away if they get on a plane and show up for treatment anyway?
  • For those who were in the middle of surrogacy cycles, I was told by a listener that her transfer was canceled but she still has to pay her surrogate’s monthly insurance premiums and allowance. Is there any way to get around one or both of these?
  • Will COBRA be extended (to accommodate the suspension of treatments)?
  • Have you seen any of the online petitions advocating for the right to treatment? What role (legally or otherwise) do petitions play during this time?
  • How else can the infertility community put pressure on the CDC and ASRM to relax the guidelines so we’re able to continue treatment without our clinics putting themselves at professional risk?
  • Is there a balance that can be struck between the safety of healthcare providers and the need for treatment of patients? Do patients have any power to start such a negotiation?
  • What are your thoughts about adoption right now and the fact that those have been put on hold also?
  • Are there situations in which babies are not able to be adopted because they weren’t far enough along in the process? What happens now?
  • If the only solution is to send the child into foster care, is the foster care system up and running under stay-at-home orders?
  • Is there anything else I should be asking or that you’d like to add?

WRAPPING UP

  • What words of hope would you offer to listeners whose fertility treatments have been put on hold?

References:

Thanks for listening!

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