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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

Octuplets give birth to ethics debate



'This is a slippery slope, telling women how or when or how many children they can have. But the story of the octuplets born to an unmarried woman who already had six children is coughing up a hairball of ethical debates inside and outside the medical profession. According to this story in Time magazine, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine recently updated its guidelines to say women under 35 — the octuplets' mom is reportedly 33 — should attempt to transfer no more than two, and preferably only one, fertilized embryo at a time. Women over 40 should attempt no more than five.

Mom_ocdocsBut can these guidelines be enforced? And should they be? Can doctors tell a woman -- once five embryos have taken hold -- that she must reduce them down to twins? That's a forced abortion. But more than two and even three babies in many cases is just too much risk in the vast majority of cases. The woman's life is in danger. Very often the children have severe disabilities.

Some folks in the blogosphere have raised the issue of whether taxpayer dollars will be used to care for these babies. But the issues go so much deeper than that. This isn't the first time we've seen a sticky ethical debate in the fertility game. Just read The Surrogate, a series written by the Times' Leonora LaPeter Anton, in which hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent to get a 40-year-old surrogate pregnant one last time.

We can understand a person who desperately wants to have a baby taking advantage of all the medical advances now available to them. But to quote a character in Jurassic Park, "scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

If it's any comfort, her friends are defending her.

--Sharon Kennedy Wynne

[Photo: Associated Press of doctors who participated in the birth of the octuplets in California]

[Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 10:59am]


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