These days, fertility medicine is being likened to the Wild West and those who practice the “art” of fertility medicine are unhappy when some in their profession are called cowboys. If the shoe (or boot!) fits, wear it. Otherwise you better learn to rope ’em in boys!
When the news broke of the woman who gave birth to eight children – as in octuplets, as in 8-children-all-at-once – the ethical pundits got busy pointing fingers and playing the blame game. And believe me, it looks like there is plenty of blame to go around. This is exactly the kind of story that accentuates the common phrase “ethics is messy” and re-enforces that complex situations should not (and thankfully are not) our starting place for shaping policy and writing laws.
Trying to get to the bottom of this story has been a challenge. Here is what we currently know.
The mother, Nadya Suleman, is a 33-year-old single mother of 14 children. All of her children were created through IVF technology. Her six other children range in age from 2-7. The birth of the octuplets were born out of implanting six embryos. In IVF a single embryo can produce twins. But, details about the fertility doctor and clinic are still unfolding.
Many were quick to jump on the horrible mother bandwagon. She’s single. She lives with her parents in a tiny house. She’s unemployed. She couldn’t be emotionally healthy if she chose to do such a thing. She has six children already!
But these kinds of questions and attitudes make us all horribly uncomfortable. I mean, do we really want to get into developing a list of criteria which constitutes good-mother/bad-mother? How many of us have fallen in love with America’s new TV family “John and Kate Plus 8“? (It’s a TV show that follows the day-to-day lives of John and Kate and their two sets of multiples, twins and sextuplets). Is their story “good” because John has a good job, they live in a nice house and in a nice community? Snarky Kate, while irritating at times, is a super-mom for navigating through and managing such a chaotic household. And the children are just absolutely adorable!
But poor Nadya, the poster mom for bad mothering, has been vilified. And now she seeks to make a profit off her story (and worse, her children) as she is courted by book deals, TV shows and maybe even movie producers? Tsk, tsk. Shame on Nadya!
But hold on a minute. Before we slap a scarlet letter onto Nadya, first things first. What on earth were the fertility clinic and the fertility doctor(s) thinking – or more appropriately, not thinking? As soon as this story broke, fertility experts were doing damage control. Fertility specialists were glowingly pointing to the stellar recommendations and guidelines of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). But sadly they are just that…recommendations and guidelines that have no heft to them and cannot be enforced. Sort of like the phrase “suggested donations” which is just that – a suggestion! These suggestions, recommendations and guidelines can be ignored. Case in point…octuplets!
Dr. James Grifo, a fertility specialist at NYU School of Medicine said, “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 caught Grifo on the news reiterating his praise of the ASRM guidelines and objecting to laws that would regulate medical practice.
But what has become of the medical profession which is to profess their special knowledge and training in medicine, for the good and the benefit of their patients? In educating their infertile patients they would to well to explain that the human female body is not designed to produce litters. They would do well to avoid putting women and children into harms way by endangering their health by intentionally causing a multiple birth-high-risk pregnancy.
If the medical profession would only profess their special knowledge and take their oath seriously we wouldn’t need to police medicine and we wouldn’t have cowboys for doctors.
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