February 10, 2009
The news that a woman in California gave birth to octuplets surprised many and shocked some. Nadya Sulemane, the 33-year old single mother of 6 is now mother of 14. Nadya planned or rather engineered the multiple births by having the six embryos, conceived in-vitro and placed in her womb. All of her 14 children were conceived that way and all have the same "father."
Nadya appeared on a number of television shows and seemed composed, apparently rational and totally dedicated to being a good mother. However, Nadya does not have a job and lives with her parents in a small apartment in Los Angeles. Her mother is the caretaker of the six older children. Nadya also assumes that her church will be willing and able to support her.
Her situation and how it came about has raised many questions among ethicists and the public in general.
There have been numerous cases of women taking fertility drugs because of their inability to conceive who found themselves pregnant with multiple babies. In this case however, the issue is one of shared responsibility.
1. Responsibility of the mother who took enormous health risks for herself and her children as well as the risk she took of not being able to provide both the emotional and financial support these children will need.
2. Responsibility of the medical profession that allowed or rather facilitated the multiple births. The physicians that performed the in-vitro fertilization share the risks taken by the mother and imposed on the children. Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania said: "Medicine is not a restaurant, and doctors are not waiters, they need to have some professional responsibility when it comes to patients."
3. Responsibility of society that should have laws in place to prevent Mega-multiple engineered births. I am often wary of creating more laws to regulate ethical conduct, because it is difficult to legislate morality and because, I believe society should not necessarily criminalize unethical behavior. However in this case, I believe we need new laws. We already have laws that determine who is fit to be an adoptive or foster care parent, why not apply the same criteria to biological parents who plan on having multiple births as well? The American Society of Reproductive Medicine, which set national standards, recommends that no more than two embryos be transferred at one time.
The etymology of the word "responsible" comes from the Latin word "respondere" which means giving an answer to, or being morally accountable for one's action.
As Victor Frankl once wrote:
"A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how."