The California woman who gave birth to octuplets last Monday is now revealed to be the mother of six other children. What’s more, they are alleged to be living with her and her parents, and not a father in sight—except the grandfather of the (now fourteen) little ones.
Ah, but who are we to judge? Here are two quotes from doctors not directly involved with the case:
Doctors say they advise against higher-order births, but acknowledge the decision is not theirs to make.
“Who am I to say that six is the limit?” said Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, medical director of Fertility Institutes, which has clinics in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York City. “There are people who like to have big families.”
Dr. James Grifo, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the NYU School of Medicine, added: “I don’t think it’s our job to tell them how many babies they’re allowed to have. I am not a policeman for reproduction in the United States. My role is to educate patients.”
I agree with the doctors that they are not the reproductive police. Nor should they force parents who are carrying more than one fetus—even as many as eight, as this woman was—to selectively abort. And don’t get me wrong; I wish the mother, her babies, and in fact all her children (not to mention the grandparents, who probably have a bit of babysitting ahead of them) well.
But although not “police,” doctors make ethical and practical judgments about elective medical treatments all the time (in practice, they even make judgments about life-saving treatments, although they’re supposed to leave that to the patients). To my way of thinking, these two questions should have at least been asked by the doctors: (1) should fertility treatments be given to single parents?; and (2) should fertility treatments be given to people with six children? My answers would have been “yes, under certain circumstances” to question (1) (the circumstances would include age of parent, resources, and emotional health of parent); and “no” to question (2).
We already make similar decisions about whether such parents should be allowed to adopt. And although there are huge differences between the two situations (adoption is about someone else’s biological child, and fertility treatments are about one’s own, albeit with the help of extraordinary measures), the line should be drawn somewhere on both. I’m not a pure libertarian on this issue.
Of course, there is the knotty problem of what number of children a “too-large-for-further-fertility-treatments” family would consist of. Different doctors would draw the line at different points, no doubt. But a line should be drawn, or the doctor is being irresponsible.
It’s not that I don’t have lots of sympathy for people who have trouble conceiving. Hey, I even watch “Jon and Kate Plus 8” on occasion (shh, don’t tell anyone), although I balk at “17 Kids and Counting.” The former family, however, consists of a married couple who had fertility treatments when the only children they had at home were a set of female twins. The latter is another married couple who have had all their children, multiples and singletons, the good old-fashioned way.
The behavior of both of the couples, and their doctors, seem quite defensible. I would never argue that a couple with two children at home should not be helped with having another, or that a couple should be forced to limit the number of its own naturally-conceived biological children, although I could write another article about what I think about their decisions to air their whole families on reality TV.
I can’t help but think that the current octuplet mom has been watching too much TV on The Learning Channel, as have her doctors. How else to explain their decision to help this women have more children? Doctors can set a limit somewhere, as they are supposed to do with cosmetic surgery. There is no absolute right to have either, just because one can afford it.
[NOTE: The mother is keeping mum on certain relevant questions, such as whether she had fertility treatments. But since naturally-conceived octuplets are unknown, I think we can safely assume she did.]