WHITTIER, Calif. — How does a woman with six children get a fertility doctor to help her have more?
An ethical debate erupted Friday after it was learned the unmarried Southern California woman who gave birth to octuplets this week had six children already, including a set of twins, ranging in age from 2 to 7.
Nadya Suleman, 33, lives with her parents in a 1,550-square-foot home in Whittier, a Los Angeles suburb. She is "obsessed with children" and had embryos transplanted in hopes of getting "just one more girl," said her mother, Angela Suleman.
"And look what happened. Octuplets. Dear God," Angela Suleman said. She said that her daughter is divorced and that all of the children are from the same sperm donor. She would not identify him but said the ex-husband is not the father.
Angela Suleman acknowledged that supporting 14 children could prove challenging. The family has had financial problems. Angela Suleman filed for bankruptcy last year, claiming nearly $1 million in liabilities.
Some medical experts were disturbed to hear the mother was offered fertility treatment and troubled that she was implanted with so many embryos.
"I cannot see circumstances where any reasonable physician would transfer (so many) embryos into a woman under the age of 35 under any circumstance," said Arthur Wisot, a fertility doctor in Redondo Beach, Calif. Doctors likely could not deny treatment because a woman already has children, he said, but they should take steps to make sure she does not have so many babies.
Everyone has a stake in megamultiple births, said Arthur Caplan, bioethics chairman at the University of Pennsylvania. They cause insurance premiums to rise when hospitals cannot get reimbursed for the huge costs such babies incur, and those with disabilities typically require social services.
Countered Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, who has fertility clinics in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York: "Who am I to say that six is the limit? There are people who like to have big families."
Kaiser Permanente announced the megadelivery Monday, with delighted doctors saying they had initially expected seven babies and were surprised when the caesarean section yielded an eighth. The six boys and two girls are said to be in remarkably good condition but are expected to remain in the hospital for several more weeks.
Doctors said Nadya Suleman rejected an offer from doctors to abort some of the embryos. Angela Suleman said her daughter felt she had little choice. "What do you suggest she should have done?"
Nadya Suleman worked as a psychiatric technician until she was injured on the job. Then she began having children and enrolled in college, getting a bachelor's degree in child and adolescent development.
As the media camped outside the house, Angela Suleman said she could not really explain her daughter's decision. "I wish she would have become a kindergarten teacher."