I feel sorry for the “other side.” This recent media sensation of the octuplet birth to the woman with six existing kids must be quite a strain. According to her mother, the woman suffers from “plugged tubes” and thus underwent IVF. Because she had remaining embryos that she did not want destroyed, she had them implanted. She apparently rejected selective abortion, and now has fourteen children to support on her own. She is unmarried and according to her mother, her ex-husband was not the biological father of her first six children, who were conceived with a sperm donor.
The scholar in me recognizes that a family of fourteen was really not remarkable until women had the ability and the right to control their fertility (thank you Margaret Sanger). In fact, it was the very common nature of pregnancies every two years or so that turned Sanger from an obscene outlaw to a heroine of the middle class in a relative short period of time.
Ironically the ethical dilemmas posed by this extreme case are manifold for people who oppose other women’s right to make choices at the other end of the spectrum. She is unmarried and will seem to require state aid, a big no no for conservatives. She used IVF, a reproductive technology that some people on the “other side” reject as “playing God.” Still she clearly believes in the value of “life” even that eighth one no one knew was there. Quality of life might be debatable, but even liberals have rejected outright the notion that she should have been forced to abort some embryos. Indeed the suggestion that her physicians should have done the psycho-social screening that would have been required should she have wanted to serve as an adoptive or foster parent, perhaps healthier alternatives for someone “obsessed with children,” seems unversally rejected as outside their purview (interesting to consider in light of mandatory counseling laws prior to aboriton in some states).
Perhaps the greatest ethical dilemma posed by her case is the issue of unimplanted embryos. Because the process of IVF is somewhat unreliable, multiple eggs are often fertilized so that the best embryos can be used for implantation. Most reputable physicians will implant a maximum of two, so in instances when IVF is highly successful, “good” embryos are frozen for later use.
As I have said before, going through this abortion at forty means I know someone who has been in pretty much every reproductive ethical position there is. I had a colleague turned friend, who shared with me that he and his wife conceived via IVF with a donor egg. They had two lovely sons; however, they had remaining embryos and were torn as to what to do with them. Their difficult decision was ironically similar to one that I faced. The embryos were conceived with donations from the same “parents” and seemed like siblings to their two chidlren. To destroy the embryos is in effect the equivalent of an abortion to him, which contravenes his religious beliefs. Yet offering the embryos for transfer to another couple often mistermed “embryo adoption” is difficult for him to fathom, for the same reasons I could not see carrying my fetus to term and then placing it up for adoption. Again, I say, while my decision was hard, there are far more difficult dilemmas out there.