Octuplet Birth Raises Ethical Questions About Infertility Treatments
When personal freedom and medical science collide, we’ve got a problem.
The announcement that a California woman recently gave birth to octuplets grabbed headlines around the globe. The fascination was not only that all eight babies were expected to survive, but that the woman already had six children–all conceived through in vitro fertilization. Red flags are popping up everywhere.
I don’t think we, as Americans, want to live in a society where doctors–or anyone else for that matter–can dictate how large or small our families become. That is an intensely personal matter. Who among us would sit in judgement? But in the case of in vitro fertilization, the health and welfare of the mother, as well as that of the babies, must take top priority for physicians.
Bioethicists and the general public alike are questioning the safety and debating the ethics of implanting so many embryos at once. Thankfully, in this case, the mother and all the babies survived the birth, the decision to implant eight embryos was still reckless and dangerous for all concerned.
Multiple births carry additional risks for both mother and babies. Born nine weeks premature and weighing between 1 pound, 8 ounces and 3 pounds, 4 ounces, the octuplets will remain hospitalized for several weeks. While they appear to be fairly healthy at this point, such premature deliveries can result in lifelong health issues involving the lungs, hearing, vision and learning disabilities.
Should the fact that the woman already had six children have entered into the equation? Was the doctor obligated to fulfill the wishes of the patient, even if they presented a health hazard? It’s one thing to take on a risk to your own health and quite another to risk the health of eight babies.
In the short term, lives were at stake. In the long term, continuing medical care for these fourteen children could last a lifetime.
In a previous post about the “Right of Conscience” rule, I expressed my concern about doctors imposing their own moral beliefs upon us and, as a consequence, denying us proper health care. Doctors doubling as Moral Police is a bad idea. But here we have a case where personal freedom and medical science collide.
When our personal choices impose burdens or endanger the health of others (the babies), we’ve got a problem.