Maybe baby, baby, baby, baby …

800px-twinstwinsSo whaddya do when you are assigned to cover a story about a woman who just had octuplets (that’s eight, if you are counting) — and already has six young children?

This story is the consummate “hot potato”-guaranteed to arouse strong feelings among your readers (not to mention in your own mind).

So you start asking questions. Not only scientific ones, but religious and ethical ones.

But in the article published in the Los Angeles Times yesterday, it seems like a lot of those questions didn’t get asked-or if they were, they were not included in the story.

OK, it’s natural that the reporters would focus their lede on the brief phone interview they scored with the unidentified woman’s mother:

The woman who gave birth to octuplets this week already has six young children and never expected that the fertility treatment she received would result in eight more babies, her mother said Thursday.

The woman, who has not been publicly identified, had embryos implanted last year, and “they all happened to take,” Angela Suleman said, leading to the eight births Monday. “I looked at those babies. They are so tiny and so beautiful.”

She acknowledged that raising 14 children is a daunting prospect.

“It’s going to be difficult,” Suleman added, noting that her daughter’s father is going back to Iraq, where neighbors said he worked as a contractor, to help support the expanded family.

The mother of the octuplets lives on a well-kept cul-de-sac in Whittier, where more than a dozen reporters and camera crews descended Thursday.

What are we supposed to infer from the phrase “well-tended”? That we should be suprised?

Grandpa is about to put himself back in harm’s way to raise money to support the newborns–that’s an intriguing piece of information in itself.

Clearly the reporter didn’t have a lot of time to speak to grandma. We’ve all been there.

But what about the doctors at Kaiser Permanente? They actually held a press conference-one would assume that there would be opportunities for more profound questions there.

Although it’s not clear where the woman underwent fertility treatments, the staff at Kaiser supervised the multiple pregnancies.

We find out that:

Although the successful births at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Bellflower have received worldwide attention, they also have prompted disapproval from some medical ethicists and fertility specialists, who argue that high-number multiple births endanger the mother and also frequently lead to long-term health and developmental problems for the children.

Under the guidelines of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, U.S. doctors normally would not implant more than two embryos at a time in a woman under the age of 35. After that age it is more difficult to become pregnant. The mother of the octuplets is believed to be 33, based on available public records.

What is the mother’s faith background? Did she receive secular or religious counseling when considering fertility treatments? What kind of support is she being given now?

If we judge by what’s included in the article, the questions and answers seem a lot more focused on facts than ethics–althought the ethical and spiritual questions are glaring.

But a quote by one Kaiser doctor suggests, perhaps inadvertently, that doctors take a studiously neutral attitude towards multiple births:

Dr. Harold Henry, a member of the delivery team, said doctors counseled her regarding the options and risks — among them aborting some of the fetuses.

“Our goal is to provide the best possible care, no matter what the situation or circumstances are,” Henry said. “What I do is just explain the facts. I always talk about the risks. The mother weighs those options, and she chooses the option based on spiritual or personal makeup.”

Though readers like me may not be clear as to the difference between “spiritual” or “personal” makeup, he does zoom in on the big piece that’s missing here.

What goes into a woman and her partner/husband’s decision to have fertility treatments when the family already has six young children–and carry all to term?

They have a right not to answer questions about their personal faith or morality. But it seems to me that since the media is covering this story, it has a responsibility look beyond the Ripley’s-believe-it-or-not factor and to ask some of the more challenging ones.

You can be sure that readers are asking them.

Picture of babies from Wikimedia Commons

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  • Mary

    There is NO father of the octuplets. The woman’s FATHER is going to Iran. The woman used donor sperm. There’s so much more to this story. It’s going to get really crazy.

  • Mary
  • Mary

    And, no, she had no counseling. It was all about her and what she wanted. She’s got to be mentally ill, and I read online that she worked at a fertility clinic, so I wouldn’t even be surprised if the sperm was stolen. That’s how nuts this story is going to get.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=3978 E.E. Evans

    You are absolutely right about it being the woman’s dad going back to Iraq-my misreading. There’s a novel here…

  • Mary

    I get why you missed that, lol, it’s a strange and twisted story. Meanwhile, my married sister has been trying to have a baby for two years now and they can’t get pregnant. They pray and pray and want a baby so bad. It doesn’t make sense… that in itself is a basic faith question.

  • http://BibleBeltBlogger Frank Lockwood

    E.E.,
    Interesting post. I would update your post to make clear that it’s the grandfather that’s going to Iraq, not the father.

  • Jerry

    There are quite a few ethical issues here that hopefully will be sorted out over time. First, there’s the questions that are raised by this:

    “It’s over now,” she said. “It has to be. It can’t go on any longer. She’s got six children and no husband. I was brought up the traditional way. I firmly believe in marriage. But she didn’t want to get married. So she got the in vitro.”

    http://health.yahoo.com/news/ap/octuplets.html

    There’s personal moral questions that are obvious here.

    There are ethical questions for the doctors that the story mentions such as what kind of counseling should women get?

    There are also societal questions that the story covers a bit:

    Caplan said everyone has a stake in mega-multiple births because they cause insurance premiums to rise when hospitals cannot get reimbursed for the huge costs such babies incur, and because those with disabilities typically require social services.

    “To say all you need is cash and the will to have more kids should not be a sufficient standard to access services,” he said. “It is insufficient for adoption. It isn’t sufficient to be a foster parent. Why would it be sufficient to run down to the fertility clinic to get embryos transplanted or super-ovulated?”

  • Dale

    I think an interesting question is the status of the doctors as ethical actors. From what I’ve read, the doctors have taken the attitude that they’re merely technicians performing at the request of their customer/patient. I’d suggest that when a doctor performs in vitro fertilization and implants embryos, they’ve got ethical responsibilities more along the lines of a parent than a reproductive system plumber.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    An angle that the Times story didn’t mention (but the one Jerry linked above does) is that the eight were leftover embryos from the previous in vitro. She chose to implant them rather than have them destroyed. It’s hinted at as a sign of mental illness, but there’s a definite religion ghost there. Did she believe it was her moral duty to carry them to term?

  • Mary

    Joel, I have to say I personally believe the IVF story is bunk. In my opinion, she trolled the internet and got someone to sell her leftover clomid or pergonal, got her hands on some sperm and used a turkey baster to shoot herself up.

    There is NO WAY a doctor risked his malpractice insurance, livelihood and reputation to implant eight embryos in a young woman with six kids.

    But we shall see as the story comes out.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    What’s the debate?? What’s the issue?? There are none-except for media exploitation of a sensational story.
    Our society has thrown out all vestiges of morality with regard to anything involving human reproduction. We are just animals to be manipulated as scientists and doctors see fit (so the university and government grants will keep flowing). However, try to find an MSM story that doesn’t “spin” stories of reproductive amorality and anarchy as “progress.”

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    However, try to find an MSM story that doesn’t “spin” stories of reproductive amorality and anarchy as “progress.”

    Deacon, this story appears to me to illustrate the converse. The media are spinning this in such a way as to make the woman appear not to be praying on a full rosary, as it were, when in fact she may have had entirely different motives. Among the possible motives are some very strong religious ones, yet the articles completely ignore that possibility. Rather, they present her as deranged, and treat that as though it were so obvious that it didn’t need mentioning or explaining.

  • Susan

    #12 The quip “not to be praying on a full rosary” implies that this woman is a Roman Catholic. Whether she is or not, this type of fertility treatament is forbidden to a practicing RC.

  • http://www.followingthelede.blogspot.com Sabrina

    Creepy story. Conspicuous consumption with children as the goods.

  • Bern

    I disagree that the octuplet’s mother is being characterized by he media as “deranged”, unless you think quoting her own mother as calling her “obsessed” is manipulating the story. And, the apparent lack of motivation is what makes a reader think she might be deranged. What is her motivation?

    I’m no biologist but with personal experience with infertility–whether or not the “blocked fallopians” story is true–the turkey baster method seems highly unlikely to me.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    #12 The quip “not to be praying on a full rosary” implies that this woman is a Roman Catholic. Whether she is or not, this type of fertility treatament is forbidden to a practicing RC.

    I used the phrase to be descriptive, not really to imply that she herself was Catholic. In fact, we have no idea whatever about what she believes.

    You’re right that the Catholic Church prohibits in vitro fertilization, partly (though not entirely) because of such situations as this. However, her actions afterward would have been consonant with Catholic teaching, i.e. to carry them to term when the only alternative was to have them destroyed.

    And, the apparent lack of motivation is what makes a reader think she might be deranged.

    Exactly, Bern. I think that’s deliberate. The only reason there is no apparent motivation is that we’re not being told what the actual motivation is.

  • Appalachian Prof

    In regards to this story, the most discussed “ethical question” I’ve seen out there is whether the mother in question should have aborted one or more of the fetuses. There’s a perception out there in some quarters that there’s a positive obligation to abort. Chilling.

  • I.J.

    According to a UK story in following website, the grandfather is Iraqi; But the name below the grandfather is “Suleman-Gutierrez”.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1131343/Mother-octuplets-worked-IVF-clinic.html


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