Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Octuplet Mom: Where Do We Draw the Line on IVF?

By Erica Kain

At first, I didn’t believe Nadya Suleman, the infamous mother of octuplets. No doctor would have the gall to transfer more than two embryos into a 33-year-old woman, right?
My initial guess was that she had pulled a Bobbi McCaughey. While trying to conceive, McCaughey took Pergonal and became the mother of septuplets, born in 1997. She did not have an ultrasound to determine how many eggs were waiting for the sperm.

As a result, McCaughey had seven premature babies, one with hypotonic quadriplegia and one with spastic diplegia. The situation seemed avoidable if she’d been under the care of a responsible reproductive endocrinologist who could have warned her against trying to conceive that particular month.

I’ve since learned that Pergonal was not to blame for Suleman’s conception. She did indeed have six embryos implanted by in vitro fertilization (IVF), two of which split, creating eight premature babies who may suffer a host of problems (including heart and brain defects).

If you purposely create more than one child in utero, there’s a good chance they’re going to have to come out early. Who in the world would wish prematurity upon their children? And what physician would consent to a massive embryo transfer?

The parents in my community have been discussing this situation almost nonstop since the story broke. While everyone agrees that Suleman made a terrible decision and her complicit doctor should be punished, no one can agree what the guidelines should be. Here are some of the suggestions:
“How about no IVF after three kids?”

Sounds responsible. But then I think of the well-to-do mother whose fourth child (an IVF baby) takes swim lessons with my daughter. Would I deny her the right to a fourth child just because she is over 35 and her reproductive system stopped cooperating?

“You have to show you can financially support your embryos before you create them.”
But if this were the case for natural conception, so many kids wouldn’t be here today. And the bills related to assisted reproductive technology (ART) tend to drain the savings accounts of even the most fiscally responsible parents. Most insurance companies don’t cover ART, acting as an artificial barrier to prevent low-income women from conceiving through IVF.

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