The following editorial appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Thursday, Feb. 12:

The 33-year-old California woman who gave birth to octuplets last month has sparked widespread debate about the ethics and science of reproductive technology run amok. While the case is an anomaly, it underscores the need for tighter guidelines and compliance by doctors and fertility clinics.

TV news programs often celebrate the miracle of multiple births. But the majority of the public has turned on the mother of the eight babies, Nadya Suleman, after learning she already has six children, is a single mother who doesn’t work, and lives with her parents in a small bungalow outside of Los Angeles.

All of the facts surrounding the case have yet to emerge, and some accounts are contradictory, but initial details describe a troubled woman obsessed with having a large family who has placed the health and welfare of herself and her 14 children at huge risk.

At the same time, she has also placed taxpayers on the hook for her decision to have so many kids through in-vitro fertilization. As such, many are rightly outraged that the public will likely have to foot the estimated more than $1 million in medical bills for the babies.

After initially denying that she receives any welfare support, Suleman admitted that she gets $490 a month in food stamps for her six kids at home and federal supplemental security income for three children who are disabled.

Suleman has hired a publicist, and there is talk of a book and/or movie deal. So there may be hope yet to get her off the dole.

More broadly, this case underscores the need to determine if further medical guidelines or even federal laws are needed.

England, for example, limits the number of embryos that can be placed in a woman under age 40 to two. The woman must also show that she can financially support any children conceived, which seems like a reasonable expectation for anyone undergoing fertility treatments.

Most doctors here follow similar guidelines regarding the number of embryos that can be placed in a woman. The challenge going forward is how best to rein in the rogue doctors or clinics that don’t follow medical guidelines.

Fortunately, the Medical Board of California is investigating Suleman’s doctor to see if there was a “violation of the standard of care,” because so many embryos were implanted. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine and industry watchdogs must also develop tighter guidelines and demand vigilant compliance.

If, at the end of the day, the medical community can’t police itself, then the government may be forced to get more involved.


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