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May29FriThe birth of octuplets raises new questions about high-risk multiple pregnancies May 29, 2009 by Captain Amy Reardon & Dr. James Read
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
So, what do you think of Nadya Suleman? She's the mother who gave birth to octuplets. Eight babies all at once! And six more at home!! All seven years old or younger!!! (Where should I stop with the exclamation marks?)
Not that I think large families are necessarily a bad thing. My father was the youngest of eight; my mother-in-law the youngest of 11. Everyone seems to have turned out OK. I am the oldest of six. The first four of us were born in less than five years. My redheaded mother, who herself was one of five, only half-jokingly said she wanted 25 redheaded grandchildren.
I recall a man who quoted Psalm 127:3-5 whenever he gave his testimony: “Children are a gift of the Lord.... How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (NASB). I would chuckle and wonder whether his wife felt the same way. When we take the modern approach of limiting our families to two children or less (the Canadian norm now), it's hard to say we're following the example of biblical forebears.
All the same—octuplets!? The first news reports were breathless with amazement at the medical achievement. It was only the second time in American history. You had to know that a fertility clinic was somewhere in the background. I immediately wondered about the ethics of an obstetrician who would implant so many fertilized ova at once. I think it's irresponsible, given the high risk that multiple pregnancies impose on the mother and the developing babies. Nadya reportedly refused what is euphemistically called “fetal reduction”—aborting some of the unborn babies to give the rest a better chance. There's something commendable in that, I suppose, but it's no defence of the medical professionals who put her in that position.
People are wondering whether it was really “baby greed” that motivated her or a desire to become famous and rich
What was she thinking when she asked for the in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment? And who was she thinking about? Nadya says she grew up just wanting to be a mom and to save her children from the loneliness she experienced as an only child. Those motives aren't unworthy. But having 14 children seems so over-the-top that people are wondering whether it was really “baby greed” that motivated her or a desire to become famous and rich off her “litter.” Was she really thinking of her children's well-being when she planned for them to be raised without a father?
Everyone who knows Nadya Suleman says she's a doting mother. If that's the case, I doubt she was motivated by money or fame. But what did drive her? Some say she is inspired by Angelina Jolie, who has many children. (She has been accused of altering her appearance to look like Jolie, though she denies it.)
Whatever the case, I think that any single, financially disadvantaged person who would choose to have so many children has some kind of emotional problem. I can hardly understand her decision to have the first six kids, let alone adding another eight.
Nadya used an IVF process, whereby six of her eggs were fertilized in a laboratory by a donor's sperm. Two of them eventually split, producing eight babies. Although I don't agree with her approach to family planning, I think she made a morally responsible decision not to dispose of the extra ova.
It's the age-old question of “When does life begin?” I've always assumed life begins at fertilization. Under that conviction, I'd have to applaud Nadya for having the courage to have every egg implanted, as opposed to allowing some to be discarded. If it was life, it was life.
We agree that she shouldn't have put herself in this position in the first place. But there she was, in a clinic or lab or whatever, with six fertilized eggs. Hindsight proves that not only was each egg a potential life, they turned out to equal eight lives. Real people. Some may say Nadya forced God's hand. But I believe that the success of the procedure was still God's choice.
None of us knows for sure when life begins. Personally, I think that, if we err, we should err on the side of life. I believe that God values life more than anything else. After all, eternal life is the great gift he offers us.
Of course, by having all the ova implanted, Nadya risked her own health. Normally, I would say that if she wants to take her life in her hands, that's her business. But not if she already has six fatherless children at home depending on her!
Jim, when your kids lived at home, didn't you do everything in your power to take care of yourself so your kids wouldn't lose you? If Nadya had chosen to implant one or two eggs, she would have been at little risk. But the remaining fertilized ova would have been lost. So, which is of more value: Nadya's life or the lives of the unborn babies?
In the scenario she created, I still think she did the right thing. But she should never have put herself in that position to begin with.
By God's choice, all of the babies and mom are alive and well. Now what?
Now what, indeed. Now what for the children? And for Nadya? On top of her own physical, psychological and financial issues, she's got relationship issues with her parents, who are exhausted. And she has the public to deal with. One of the things that has troubled me about this story is the way complete strangers have turned on Nadya with their biting, angry comments. It's as though somehow they've been victimized by Nadya's decisions.
Bill O'Reilly of Fox News went ballistic. Nadya's publicist told Dr. Phil she quit because she started getting death threats. A lawyer on CBS's Early Show said, “There has to be some questions about whether or not a woman who's receiving over $150,000 in disability payments is really authorized to receive those payments if she's too disabled to work but not too disabled to have at least half a dozen children.”
I know the people saying these things may not be the same as those who gushed in amazement at a medical marvel the week the octuplets were born, but the speed with which public sentiment turned sure makes you think of the week between Jesus' triumphal entry and his Crucifixion, doesn't it? Crowds can be very fickle.
The six eggs in those Petri dishes became eight people. Which of them should have been thrown out?
We can also be judgmental when it comes to money. Feeding, clothing, sheltering and educating these children is a serious, long-term proposition. But I get the feeling that people would not be spewing hateful comments if Nadya were a banker who had millions of her own money—even if that money came in the form of a bonus for having sold subprime mortgages. I'd guess that Salvation Army officers see plenty of judgmental attitudes toward those who draw disability pensions or depend on social assistance.
Finances might be easier if the “sperm donor” came forward to help. Do you think he should? Until he does, you can hardly call him the children's father. I feel quite strongly that they need a father, and not just as a revenue source. Roman Catholic teaching says children have a right to be fathered by the man who is the source of their genetic make-up. I wouldn't put it quite like that, but I do think that donating sperm carries ongoing ethical responsibilities that donating money lacks.
I think we may disagree about whether it would have been wrong for Nadya not to implant the embryos. Are unimplanted embryos really like abandoned babies left on the doorstep? Is discarding them tantamount to taking a life?
I think discarding embryos may be tantamount to taking a life. The six eggs in those Petri dishes became eight people. Which of them should have been thrown out?
While I'm convinced that it was right for Nadya to have all the embryos implanted, I can understand people's frustration. American tax payers must foot her bills. People who might have had more children if they thought they could afford them must now pay for her brood. I'm really curious about how Nadya afforded the IVF—a very costly procedure—in the first place.
Even so, this public tongue-lashing is just too much. I'm no psychologist, but I'd wager that lambasting Nadya will only increase the dysfunctionality in that home, which would decrease the chances of those 14 individuals growing into healthy, contributing citizens.
Those who are decrying this whole thing in the shrillest tones are defeating their own purpose. They want people to act responsibly. But as they stigmatize the person who acted irresponsibly, they produce an environment for raising more dysfunctional adults.
There was a man who declared himself the octuplets' sperm donor, and signalled a desire to be involved in the lives of the children. But Nadya flatly denied that he was the donor. I rather doubt that most sperm donors are interested in parenting. In this case, however, the situation may provoke some sense of responsibility.
I'm bothered by the Roman Catholic teaching you mentioned. Just because a boy who has hit puberty is biologically equipped to father a child, does that mean he's emotionally equipped? What kind of father would he make if he were disinterested in the child? I would much rather a child had no father than one who responded with bitterness or ambivalence. Such emotions can readily lead to abuse.
I agree that those children need a father. To me, the perfect solution would be if Nadya fell in love and married a caring man who didn't mind taking on 14 children. Rather than wait around for that, however, I hope she is or will become involved with a church that will do what the body of Christ does best: minister to those in need.
In this Talking It Over series, Dr. James Read, Executive Director of The Salvation Army Ethics Centre in Winnipeg, and Captain Amy Reardon, Editor of Young Salvationist, U.S.A. National Headquarters, dialogue about moral and ethical issues. Click here to read more debates in the Talking It Over series.