Monday, February 2, 2009

California Octuplets

The delivery team. Will we ever know anything about the implantation team?

Every once in a while there comes a story which leaves one speechless, unable to comprehend the information. The Suleman octuplets, born last Monday in California, is one such story for me.

How in the world does a single mother of six children under the age of 8, living with her parents, obtain another round of IVF? There are all kinds of ethical and moral issues involved with this story. The medical community, while applauding the successful delivery, are at a loss as to explain how any ethical doctor could have participated in this pregnancy.

The pro life right has been unusually silent. The home page provides absolutely zero coverage, nor has any of the other larger pro life sites. And yet, Ms. Suleman has stated she wanted to bring to birth all of her frozen embryos and refused selective abortion on pro life grounds. You would think they might welcome her decision with open arms instead of silence.

I wonder if we have anywhere near the whole story. CBS News is reporting that Ms. Suleman got the money for this latest round of IVF from a legal settlement, stemming from an on the job injury, that one sperm donor--not her divorced husband-- is responsible for all 14 children, and that she intends to hire an agent and pursuit a career as a media parenting specialist.

Oprah and Dianne Sawyer are interested in obtaining the first exclusive interview with Ms. Suleman. Perhaps the first interview should really be done by a psychiatrist. Actually, that one should have been done some time ago.

The prognosis for the babies, six boys and two girls, is positive at this point. However, history says the outcomes may not stay positive. Preemies, especially boys, have difficulties in both physical and mental areas, which may not show up right away. Ms. Suleman already has one autistic son. She may have more sons with more issues.

In the final analysis this story may be about how far personal choice extends in reproductive rights. Does a doctor have the legal authority to say 'no' to a woman who chooses to have multiple births such as Ms. Suleman? Will we see legal limits placed on IVF services, such as in some European countries, where embryo implants are restricted to one or two embryos? Will we see new legal opinions involving just who owns frozen embryos and what can be done with them? Will we see more intensive screening of prospective parents and can their reproductive rights, as they pertain to fertility treatments, be curtailed? As in if you can't accomplish a pregnancy God's way, you don't automatically get to try it man's way?

These are serious questions and the state has an interest, as Ms Suleman may already be getting state assistance for her autistic son. No, this is certainly not a feel good story about a multiple birth. It's more a feel queasy story about a can of legal and ethical worms.


  1. When everything settles down and the truth is finally told, this is all about money, guest spots on Oprah, product sponsorships, etc.

    This is nothing more that a single mother, probably poor, saw an easy and surefire path to fame and wealth. A woman who gives a new meaning to the term "whore".

    Why are the prolifers and the right wingers silent? Shes a huge liability to them now. Anything they say, any position they take will eventually be used against them and their platforms. Too bad she isnt catholic. That would be the icing on the cake.

  2. ???. . .yes, there are questions here. . .but now they are here. . .and the Mother is resolved to love. . .but i cannot help but feel concern for the babies. . .

    the old lullaby. . .rock a bye baby in the tree top, when the wind blows the cradle will rock,when the bough breaks the cradle will fall and down will come baby cradle and all. . .

    there is likely much wind in store for these little ones, with mother as the cradle not having enough arms for each of them, and the broken bough being the absent father that will not be holding the mother, and down will come babies in such harsh winds of societal blame and shame of the mother. . .

    these babies are going to need our love and prayers. . .

  3. Sparrow, thank you for the gentle reminder to remember the children.

    I dont agree with you about the mother being resolved to love. I cannot believe that any woman who had any type of maternal love for children would be party to a situation such as this, much less orchestrate it. As far as I'm concerned, the act itself is sufficient ground to have her declared an unfit parent and have all of the children removed from her care.

    Many legal issues must be answered I agree. While I am a very vocal critic of deadbeat dads, in this case, I pity the man who is ultimately identified as the donor, especially, if he was not party to this decision.

    I am also of the opinion that any money the mother receives as a result of this should be seized and placed in a holding account administered by a nonrelated third party for the sole benefit of the children. The mother should not be allowed to profit from the "enterprise" in any way.

    The physican who performed the procedure is guilty of malpractice and deserves to have his liscense revoked permanently. Additionally, any money or assets he receives as a result should be seized and placed in an account to provide for the childrens needs.

    But above all, we as a society must demand that the children be properly provided for. The mother deserves nothing, especially not to profit from this "enterprise".

  4. Carl, your tone and your view, in my honest opinion, is as cold hearted as I have ever heard from any right winger.

  5. Colleen, excellent points. I've been wondering about the silence of the pro-life movement, too.

    After all, with Bristol Palin, we know that the pro-life movement has decided it's fine to be a single mother bearing children, whereas in the past, we were told that out-of-wedlock children were a sign of moral decay.

    What the octuplet story does, though, is underscore the underlying mentality of many in the pro-life movement: that women are machines for incubating babies. This story shows how gross and absurd that belief can be, when it's applied in extreme forms.

    Pro-lifers have to shy away from a story like this, because it exposes too much about their misogynistic assumptions.

  6. This is almost a perfect storm for both pro choice and pro life people. Neither side expects a reasonable person would take their right for reproductive rights and pro life to this extent. It does sort of leave one speechless.

    I wonder though if this isn't a decision made from addiction. The mother has essentially lived the past eight years in a stew of fertility drugs. It maybe her brain got used to the soup.

    This may also account for the number of children. No one knows how many embryos were actually implanted, but we do know that fertility drugs will frequently cause one embryo to split into two or more embryos.

    I'll give her fertility team the benefit of the doubt on the number of implanted embryos, but that still doesn't answer other ethical and legal questions, such as how any reputable doctor would allow her to undergo six IVF procedures in less than eight years.

    In terms of taking care of the children I don't see how she does it. This is an Iraqi immigrant family with no extended family or community attachments to help. It's not like in the old days when elder siblings and other relatives helped with big families.

    It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I agree with sparrow, the babies need a lot of love and prayer and the mother will need a lot of help.

  7. What crass comments and gross misrepresentations regarding pro-lifers by Mr. Lindsay. Hardly what one expects from someone who fashions himself an intellectual and a man of compassion.

  8. dear Colleen. . .i laid awake late in the night thinking about this woman and her babies and the reactions from our culture. . .I listened on Larry King to her being called, "the most hated woman in the world".

    There must be some kind of deep unconscious root for the strength of the reaction???? Colleen you have a good mind, what is the root in the reaction of the collective??? I think it is something deeper and more unconscious than the abortion issue??

    I truly think what you say here about the stew of fertility drugs being a significant factor hits the bulls eye. . .Think about the strength of hormones and their place in human and animal bonding and survival. . . and the extent a mother will undergo as she is governed by hormonal is astonishing to say the least. Perhaps this woman was charged into a Momma Bear Worp speed to insure baby survival while other parts of the mind was in deep hibernation??? I cannot imagine what it would be like to have eight babies in the uterus, mercy!

    I also agree with you about this issue being a hot potato for both pro-choice and pro-life. . .Choice???? and Prolife??? Could you as a woman that wanted children, make a decision to eliminate certain babies once they had implanted??? I do not think i could make that decision, that decision moves choice into a complete different arena for me personally?

    I also thought about this is truly a situation where a tribe will need to be active in raising the children. . .I think the Mother can be adequate if she has the help.

    I reflected on my years in Africa and Mexico working in orphanages. In Mexico there where 54 kids and only two houseparents. There was a husband and wife that cooked. I moved around like a Octopus. . .
    A woman with many little children finds she has many more arms and many more chambers in her heart than is known by those of the one to one mother dyad. . .More kids does not have to mean less love. . .I wonder if part of our collective reaction for this Mother is the underlying belief in the scarcity of love?

    Coming from a family of eight kids, and also having extended younger and older family also in the home, there are models for successful large families. . .

    Relationships are often set up different, but love and the best interest of the child can be and is the foundation of many large families. . .

    The hardest part will be the first three years, i believe, but with support these children can have a unique and loving upbringing. . .

    I cannot imagine the next year for this Mom???. . . .

    The archetype of the Mother has many angles here with the reaction to this woman. . .

    Colleen one of the most astonishing memories i have of my birth Mother. . .

    Years ago i read about the "devouring sow" as being one of motifs/archetypes of the Great Mother and i remembered something from my own childhood that had been such an intriguing haunting primal glimpse. . .

    The look on my birth mother's face as she was watching a mother pig devouring her newborns. . . it was not the look of horror but rather her face shone with lightness and edged with giddiness. . .

    In that moment in deep places that perhaps only a woman in poverty, with eight kids, married to a man that loaded her burdens even more can know, she found an image that expressed the dark feminine that is unacceptable to express. . .

    Even to this day, when i return home and we set around an table and share the memories, one of the siblings will ask me to share the story of when i saw Mother looking at the Devouring Mother pig. We always share a knowing look, and a nervous giggle of knowing.

    There has been a time in my life with a Divine Mother from India when i experienced the Great Mother in Her terrible form. It was the Kali energy, and it was other worldly in its power and awful awesomeness. In that glance of Kali, i remembered the line from the Bible," the beginning of wisdom is fear". It was both fearsome and awe bound together, It produced a deep instant awareness and alertness, as if i were only eyes, watching. I have wondered since if that is why Kali is often shown as eyes. Is it because in Her terrible form the reaction to Her energy is just stark awareness? My breath hung for i was only eyes watching and waiting to see if i were going to be devoured, like a small animal that is prey. The two words awesome and awful seem like they could not reside together, yet in the terrible form of the Great Mother they point to a aspect of Her fullness and majesty that I do not have the vocabulary to communicate. . .

    In modern culture we have been lulled away from the terrible form of the Great Mother. . .

    Colleen the Mother archetype is so very full and rich, awesome and awful, destroying and delivering and on. . . and on. . . and on.. . i wonder if some of the collective reaction comes from the archetype of the Dark Mother in our own psyches?. . .

    Well Colleen once again found myself rambling as if i was sitting sharing a cup of tea with you.

    Thanks for you stimulating entries even if they do keep me up late in the night. .


  9. Why the strength of the reaction? I've been pondering that question all day, as well as Butterfly's response to me.

    The first article I read about the births was one about her agent (She already has signed an agent??) negotiating with oprah for $2M for her first appearance and negotiating book deals. When I read this, my first thought was that this woman had 8 IVF eggs implanted so that she could capitalize on the media frenzy that would result and cash in big. She seems to be doing just that. I havent read anything since that would lead me to think otherwise. Hence my "cold" reaction.

    I have an almost unlimited compassion for families who are on fertility treatments to have children, families who desperately want children, then end up will 4-6 as a result of the treatments. Infinite compassion.

    However, a woman who already has 6, then creates 8 more in order to cash in on the media frenzy - whore is probably the wrong term, much too generous, but it was the best I could come up with at the time.

    If indeed that is what she did, then seizing any profits she would make as a result is justice, and holding them in trust to care for the children is the only way to insure the well being of all 14 children. 14 children - that is more than the population of many orphanages now.

    As we have seen so many times with the lottery winners, instant millionaires and instant fame soon become penniless and forgotten. I see no reason to expect this situation to be any different. Eventually the novelty and the fame will disappear. Then what?

    Has anyone stopped to calculate the cost of raising 14 kids to adulthood in an urban environment today? Food alone for that size family could easily run $1000 per week. Huggies for 8? I dont even want to run that projection. Medical care - no insurance company will touch her now, or if they do, premiums will be ungodly.

    And as far as the doctor who performed the procedure - what was he thinking? Fame, oprah, book signings, etc.? An ethical physician would say 1-2 yes, 8 absolutely not - find another doctor. There are doctors practicing who should not be. In my opinion, the one who performed is one who should not.

    Why the strong reaction? Probably because the people who are reacting that way see it the same way I do. It was done for the money and the fame. 14 children are now at risk and for what?

    Now the biggest question - what do we do with the next woman who decides to make it 10? Dont kid yourself, someone out there is already planning it.

    An even bigger question, do we really want to start legistlating human litter sizes?

    Someone please give me a plausible, believable reason why a person would do that other than for the money and the fame? I cannot see one. The hormones made her do it? Then what is the doctors excuse? Where do we draw the line? For that matter, WHO do we allow to draw the lines?

  10. I think that people are making hasty decisions about this and should wait to hear the mother's side of the story. I really hate it when people base their outlook on incomplete information and are ready to nail other people to a cross. My initial reaction was that it didn't seem right for a single mother who already has six children to undergo such a thing. Now that it is done, for whatever reason, I don't think that wishing the mother ill helps anybody, including the children. I think some people are reacting hysterically.

    This is like a sideshow to take the focus off normal folks struggling just to make ends meet. Why isn't Madeoff in jail yet? I heard a lady was put into jail for an overdue library book. Isn't the justice in America wonderful?

  11. Butterfly, you say, "Now that it is done, for whatever reason, I don't think that wishing the mother ill helps anybody, including the children."

    I agree completely. There should be no blaming of the children in this case, and Colleen's point that the mother of the children may be operating out of addiction also is well-taken.

    But even so: in my view, it seems important to me to figure out what it is in our culture that would lead us to the point where a choice like this could be made without--or so it seems--a strong reaction beforehand from medical experts involved in the case.

    To me, something is wrong, when a person with this history can obtain medical assistance to have a multiple birth like this, when her own mother has washed her hands of the daughter due to the daughter's bizarre seemingly insatiable thirst to have more and more children while she is an unemployed single mother.

    To me, something seems wrong with the picture, and the something does have a lot to do with the pro-life movement. In my view, it's possible to be pro-life without assuming that women's role in life is childbearing.

    Unfortunately, the pro-life movement has let itself get intertwined with misogyny, and doesn't want to entertain questions when an event like this comes along and begs analysis of some of the underlying assumptions of the movement.

  12. Bill, it may be that the medical practioners got caught between a rock and a hard place. The left over embryos were her property. She is entitled to do with them as she wills, she so willed to have them implanted.

    The second point is that people go againsts medical advice all the time on religious grounds. That's the Church's whole issue about conscience clauses and how important they are. She may very well have been given all kinds of advice not to do this, but that's the trouble, doctors can only issue advice, patients are free to ignore the advice. They do it all the time.

    Somehow she managed to exercise all kinds of rights we take for granted and America is dumbfounded by the fact her choices have resulted in a single mother with 14children under the age of 8.

    This is the real question that neither side, pro choice or pro life, really talk about. That's the assumption that we exercise our rights with some notion of responsibility.

    The pro life side maintains the fetus has rights which are independent of the mother's ability to be responsible for the child she must birth.

    The pro choice side seems to think reproductive rights are always exercised from a sense of responsiblity.

    This case amptly demonstrates the fallacy of both positions when it comes to notions of responsibility.
    Maybe that's why everyone is angry or silent. This is a case of gross irresonsiblity by one woman exercising first her right to reproductive choice, and then her right to her religious convictions.

    In the interests of the children I hope she makes as much money as she can from as many people as are willing to pay her. I'm sure the State of California does as well.

    As sparrow writes, maternity gone amuck is a very dark thing.

  13. In pondering this it seems that the pro-life and pro-choice sides are either wanting to control others or free others in their decisions regarding having a pregnancy come to full term, through natural means or IVF. On both sides there are grey areas and extremes of what is considered moral or immoral, or the tendency for an imposition of power over another's free will and one's body. Is it really feasible or necessary to feel that every decision that every person makes on the planet have only one absolute answer for everyone and in every situation?

  14. Butterfly. . .what you write here, is exactly where i found myself after being pulled back and forth by the pondering of the questions. . .

    for me what you write has breathing space. .

  15. Colleen, I appreciate your response.

    I guess I don't see this situation so much in terms of rights as responsibilities--especially the responsibility of the medical community to assure that basic health needs of everyone are taken care of first and foremost, prior to the kind of elective procedure this patient wanted to have.

    It strikes me as socially irresponsible for the medical system to do what it did in this case, particularly when so many of us lack basic health coverage.

    And I think that something in our approach to life issues, which the pro-life movement has massaged, makes it hard for us to see how out of kilter this medical decision (I'm focusing here on the medical community that assisted the mother) was.

  16. I've been sitting with this all day, reading all the coverage I could find, from the major feeds, trying to find an answer to the question "what was she thinking?".

    It all keeps coming up the same: 8 kids, no twins, 8 IVF implants at the same time, 54 doctors and nurses to handle the delivery and care, 14 kids for a 33yo unemployed single mother with no visible means of support. 14 children at risk, ... no apparent consideration given to the welfare of the 6 children she already had when the procedure was peformed. No consideration given to how she was going to provide for all of them. No consideration given to the long term consequences of her action. Not by her, not by the medical "professionals" (???) who performed the procedure.

    I cannot get past the one conclusion that screams to me: this woman is neither mentally, emotionally or psychology fit to care for any of these children.

    This is not a tragedy, it is a travesty.

    This is not about wishing the mother ill, or reacting hysterically, this is not even gray, this is very black and white. This is 14 children at risk, 14 children with no visible means of support, 14 children whose future is now in question, 14 children who will most likely become wards of the state, an additional burden on an already overburdened social service structure ...

    and for what?

  17. Because one sits there all day looking at reports of this does not mean they have all the facts yet and should rush to judgment, and also I think Bill makes a very good point about the medical professionals who were involved in this entire process with this woman. What were they thinking? Where did the money come from? etc., etc., etc. If there is anyone to blame, blame the medical people for this taking place. After all, it was IVF that took place in their facilities.

    The medical profession has turned from care for people, to care for their pocketbooks and looking out for their economic interests. Was this woman used as a guinea pig to fatten their bank accounts? Is that a good question? It is just a question that needs to be answered.

    Is this a case that is the tip of an iceberg in the medical profession that will expose a host of other demons, such as occurred in the banking industries and companies like Enron?

  18. Butterfly, are you implying the Ms Suleman was an innocent victim in this situation?

  19. It depends on your definition of innocence and victim. I don't know that I can make any assessment until I have more information. She may have used any number of fertility clinics in a sort of 'drug seeking' behavior. In that case she's either addicted to fertility drugs or OCD.

    The real innocent victims are her children. Speculating on her motives doesn't get them fed.