Though doctors speculated that the California mother of octuplets had used fertility drugs to conceive, it's now being reported that she had the embryos implanted...and was already the mother of six children.
A family acquaintance revealed yesterday that the previously anonymous California woman who gave birth to octuplets on Monday is a 33-year-old single mother who lives with her parents and already has six children (including twins), according to MSNBC. Within hours, the media had tracked down the still unnamed woman's parents and set up camp outside their home. Angela Suleman, the children's grandmother, says her daughter had embryos implanted last year. When she found out she was pregnant with multiples, she was given the option of selectively reducing the number of embryos and she declined. "What do you suggest she should have done? She refused to have them killed," said Suleman. "That is a very painful thing."
Previously, fertility experts had guessed that the octuplets were the result of fertility drugs taken before artificial insemination because, as British gynecologist Peter Bowen puts it, "no doctor in his right mind" would implant eight embryos in a woman's womb. The L.A. Times reports that, under the guidelines of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, U.S. doctors normally would not implant more than two embryos at a time in a woman under the age of 35. But, it appears that there was a doctor who doesn't have the same ethical reservations as Bowen and did not follow the U.S. guidelines. As discussed on Babble yesterday, the birth of the octuplets has caused the media and some OB/GYNs to say that it may be time to reduce the chances that a woman will get pregnant with multiples due to the health risks. Multiples are often born prematurely and are more likely to have cerebral palsy or not survive the first week of life. Women who carry multiples have a greater risk for pre-eclampsia, miscarriage, and hemorrhaging. Because of these risks, Britain recently released new guidelines that only allow IVF doctors to implant one embryo at a time, unless the woman is over 40, in which case they may implant two, and other countries have issued similar restrictions.
All week long, the media has reported on the health risks of having higher-order multiples, but few have directly addressed what the debate really comes down to: who gets to decide what a woman does with her own body. Limiting the number of embryos a woman can carry at a time brings up the same ethical issues as abortion, but it's easier and more comfortable to use the term "selective reduction" and make jokes about breastfeeding eight babies than get into a debate on choice.
But does being pro-choice mean that one should support a woman's right to decide to implant an extremely high number of embryos, even when it may endanger the health of the unborn children? Few would be comfortable with having a law that forced someone to "selectively reduce," but does the responsibility then fall on the doctor to not implant that many embryos in the first place? Doctors quoted in the MSNBC report say that though they are against multiple births, it's not their decision to make. "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," says Dr. Games Grifo, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the NYU School of Medicine. Says Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, medical director of Fertility Institutes: "Who am I to say that six is the limit?... There are people who like to have big families."
A report this morning on the new information about the mother of octuplets from Today: