Almost as soon as the 33-year-old had successfully given birth to the six boys and two girls, the Debate began. Medical ethics, societal standards, fame-whoring, human interest, were all invoked. Is it our business? People asked. Doesn't she want it to be? Is she crazy? Are we crazy? Are doctors good, bad, ugly? Did the insemination of an unemployed mother of six with an additional eight babies constitute a breach of medical guidelines — or just poor judgment? And is it the doctor's place to say?
The bad p.r. started when Suleman's circumstances — the six existing children, all 14 of which had been conceived by having the embryos implanted, the lack of income, and residency at mother's house — took the shine off the medical miracle of the babies' delivery. Coverage became voyeuristic and critical rather than touchy-feely, and diaper and baby food-mongerers, usually quick to offer up freebies, were conspicuous in their absence. Scrutiny increased when Suleman hired a publicist and talk of movies and TV shows was heard in the land. Then her mother came out against the birth, calling her daughter "misguided" and herself, exhausted. Most recently, it's come to (critical) light that Suleman has filed at least two workers' comp claims, further fuel for critics who claim her to be either acquisitive or irresponsible.
There was General Outrage: Bill O'Reilly declared the situation "child abuse," while conservative radio talk show host Bill Handel has called for a boycott on any corporations who extend aid to the family.
Then there were the medical ethics debates. Some doctors have declared the insemination medically irresponsible and against the mission of fertility work. Others suggest that it's merely unsafe: says one doctor to CNN, "the human uterus is not built for eight passengers; the odds for each child to be born alive and healthy go down as the number in the lifeboat goes up." Many feel this raises issues about the regulation of fertility doctors and clinics. Still others say that whatever one thinks about this particular case, the response is not to monitor and curtail the work of fertility doctors. As Simon Jenkins says in the Guardian, such talk points to a dangerous high-handedness about women's reproductive rights — an idea that "to the authorities women are not to be trusted with their own eggs or wombs" that has larger implications.
And through it all, eight tiny babies, ranging in size from one to three pounds, lie in hospital incubators oblivious to it all. However distressing and significant this story, it's important to remember that nothing about it is, yet, inherently tragic, in a time when many things are. That there's potential for tragedy is one sure thing: the thing to see is what the scale will be, and who will determine it.
Octuplet Mother Also Gives Birth To Ethical Debate [Washington Post]
Octuplets' Grandmother Can't Understand Her Daughter's Decisions [People]
Commentary: Are Eight Babies More Than Enough? [CNN]
O'Reilly Angrily Bullies Female Guest, Claims He Can Judge Fitness Of Octuplets' Mom [Crooks and Liars]
Octuplet Mom Filed 2 Workers' Comp Claims [UPI]
Octuplets: Coming To A Cable Channel Near You? [EW]
Octuplets mom getting outrage rather than gifts [MSNBC]
"The Fertility Wardens Are The Enemies Of Female Liberation" [Guardian]