Monday, February 02, 2009

Octuplets: Twelve Babies Too Many

Yes, yes, I know that the California woman who just gave birth to octuplets only delivered eight babies (I do know that oct=eight). However, it turns out that this woman already had six children! Not only that, but she is a single mother who does not have any obvious means of support. Her oldest child is seven while her youngest is just two. Throw in the fact that at least one of her older children is autistic, AND that she lost her house just before becoming pregnant. It would be tough to dream up a worse situation for the introduction of a brand new baby. However, in this case it's not just one new baby, but eight.

Now the ethics, medical and otherwise, come into the situation. There are so many ugly questions here that it's difficult to know where to begin:

- Either insurance or public aid will have to pay for the healthcare costs of these children. Given the fact that each is likely to cost more than one million dollars for their delivery and NICU care alone, that is a huge amount of money. This woman made a choice to have these children and now private individuals are paying the enormous cost. Suddenly this does not seem like a purely personal issue any more.

-Next come the medical ethics. Was it reasonable for a doctor to implant so many embryos? Was it even reasonable for a doctor to be offering this type of service to a woman with so many children already? Should there be any kinds of checks on the mental health or stability of the family? What kind of life can a child expect as one of eight babies in a family of fourteen?

-Last there is the question of adding so many extra people to the planet. I have long believed that we will one day have to face the realities of unlimited population growth. Very few countries actually tackle this issue for fear that they will run afoul of religious conservatives who see every conception as a new soul sent from God. Other countries have tried to cope, but with brutal results. Eventually we will need to find a kinder gentler way to limit the growth of our population. Perhaps we might start with a limit on the number of children one can have and still seek infertility treatment?

In the end, I (and the millions of other horrified people) could certainly be wrong. Maybe this woman is a wonderful mother who will work hard to provide everything her children need. Maybe this home will be a warm and loving place where all the children feel safe, comfortable, and loved. I fervently hope this is the case. However, I also hope that child protective services will keep this woman on their short list just on the off chance that hers does not turn out to be the perfect environment for eight tiny babies.

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