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Octuplet Birth Raises Ethical Questions About Infertility Treatments

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.

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47 comments

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3:51AM PST on Jan 15, 2014

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10:24AM PST on Mar 6, 2009

Diana, you obviously don't know much about infertility. There are many causes of infertility, the leading ones being endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome. Endometriosis cause intense pain -- often worse than childbirth. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer (breast, uterine, colon). While IVF does not address any of these issues on a long-term basis, it's also true that not having children or breastfeeding increases a woman's chance of having breast cancer, so in a way, allowing a woman to become pregnant can help her physical health (and mental health and physical health are interrelated anyway).

10:19AM PST on Mar 6, 2009

What I want to know is, how can a woman on pubic assistance afford so many rounds of IVF? Each one costs at least $10,000, and even most working people can't afford more than one or two. This seems very odd.

3:08PM PST on Feb 16, 2009

Its is not normal to have all those children at once and the doctor who planted the embryos should be investigated if this is moral. The mother is gready wanting so many children at once as she is mentally obsessed by having children. How can she look after all those children it makes me tired just thinking about it. I dont think she will have the energy.

1:15AM PST on Feb 16, 2009

Regardless of the choices that where made prior to the birth of these babies they are now in the world and I think that we need to either embrace them or we need to leave them alone! I personally would never have done put myself or my family through that but it wasn’t decision. It was hers! It’s done now! There is nothing we can do about it! So why sit and bad mouth the poor woman? She has other things to worry about now. So my thoughts on the whole thing is that people need to either need to leave her alone or support her! At the very least this is a medical miracle. Its amazing that all of these beautiful little beings are alive and healthy. I have decided that if there is anyway that I can help I am going to do something. The babies deserve that! At least they are loved. That is more then can be said some children. Its not hurting anyone but the children to keep all of this up!!!!!!!!!

1:14AM PST on Feb 16, 2009

Regardless of the choices that where made prior to the birth of these babies they are now in the world and I think that we need to either embrace them or we need to leave them alone! I personally would never have done put myself or my family through that but it wasn’t decision. It was hers! It’s done now! There is nothing we can do about it! So why sit and bad mouth the poor woman? She has other things to worry about now. So my thoughts on the whole thing is that people need to either need to leave her alone or support her! At the very least this is a medical miracle. Its amazing that all of these beautiful little beings are alive and healthy. I have decided that if there is anyway that I can help I am going to do something. The babies deserve that! At least they are loved. That is more then can be said some children. Its not hurting anyone but the children to keep all of this up!!!!!!!!!

10:39PM PST on Feb 15, 2009

I am having difficulty having an issue with the medical profession in this situation. It just shouldn't have come up. Six children is plenty.

11:49AM PST on Feb 11, 2009

This woman is an example of the greed that currently destroying America today. Nothing this woman says makes sense; She's obviously a sick spoiled child in a woman's body. Her mother is telling it like it is. Because she lives in the LA area, she's caught up in the reality show syndrome, thinking irrationally, hoping she will snag a TV show to pay the bills [all the while changing her face to look like Anglina Jolie. She's watched too much of Jon and Kate makes 8; Why not, they're making it just fine. The problem is her mental sickness is being fed by Hollywood who are trying to make money off her. Of course the children are innocent, but make no mistake, if Hollywood fails, we will definitely be paying for all of them, as we are now. I think child services should look into the first six, because Grandma is wiped out.

10:39PM PST on Feb 8, 2009

Diana. Pregnancy does NOT "ruin" a woman's body. I just turned 58. I've had 3 children.(all grown) I'm in terrific shape. Where on earth did you get that idea? Where are all of these women with their shameful "ruined" bodies. Tut tut, Diana. I have to wonder what the woman REALLY wants....Children....or attention, more money and a reality TV show.

10:11AM PST on Feb 8, 2009

Also t Diana N..to claim that infertility, 'infertility cannot possibly cause any problems unless the person has severe psychological issues' is a ridiculously stupid statement to make. I assume you have children of your own and have never had the 'issue' of infertility to make such an insensitive remark! I work with couples every day who have had years of agony with loss of miscarriages, still borns, horrific IVF procedures which land the woman in hospital etc etc. The grief of never having birth children is a huge loss to any woman and your glib remark reflects a lack of empathy and insight on your part! Shame on you!

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