Monday, February 02, 2009
Unless you've been hiding under a rock this last week, you're aware of the octuplets born to California single mom Nadya Suleman, and the intense ethical debate surrounding her pregnancy. Even before it was revealed that she has six other children (apparently all from IVF, although details are a bit fuzzy), medical experts were ready to lynch the IVF specialist who implanted that many embryos into Ms. Suleman. And since then, the information that has come out has been more and more dismaying. The problem is, much of the information coming out is still speculation, and few solid facts are known. This makes it difficult to do more than speculate and contribute to the signal to noise ratio, which at the moment is definitely loudly on the side of noise.
So rather than continue to discuss the particulars of Ms. Suleman's case, which will have to be dissected in its own due time, I want to open to forum to a related question that has been repeated in the discussion of her story: how many children is too many children? Not how many implanted embryos is too many embryos, but at what point (if any) do fertility doctors say sorry, no more kids? Should Ms. Suleman have had any embryos implanted at all, given her six other children? Or is the ability to pay for IVF the only thing that should be considered? Should the financial state of the individual or couple be considered? Job? Income? What factors should go into deciding whether to treat for infertility via IVF? And should the "how many is too many" question be posed to adoptions, as well (Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt clearly coming to mind)?
Or put another way: is the problem with the birth of the octuplets the fact that they were born all at once, and if Ms. Suleman had continued to quietly have eight more children via IVF, no one would have said a thing?
It seems like this single question - if an outside source is utilized to have children, is there a point at which it can be determined that the person has too many children to have more - is fraught with the potential of paternalism and of violating the choice of family construction.
I don't even begin to have an answer to this; I doubt I've even begun to tease out all of the potential questions wrapped in what is an incredibly thorny issue. But let's open it to debate - what do you think?