Saturday 7 February 2009

Multiple births: Godsend or curse?

Artificial insemination is the process by which sperm is placed into the reproductive tract of a female for the purpose of impregnating the female by using means other than sexual intercourse. In humans, it is used as assisted reproductive technology, primarily to treat infertility but is also increasingly used to enable women without a male partner (i.e., single women and lesbians) to produce children by using sperm provided by a sperm donor. The woman is the gestational and genetic mother of the child produced, and the sperm donor is the genetic or biological father of the child.

Specifically, in artificial insemination, freshly ejaculated sperm, or sperm which has been frozen and thawed, is placed in the cervix (intracervical insemination) or in the female's uterus (intrauterine insemination) by artificial means.

To have optimal chances for the baby, the female should be under 30 years of age however, many women now start a family when they are in their mid-30s or older. Today 1 in 5 women have their first child after age 35. The older a woman gets the more likely she is to suffer complications during pregnancy. It is estimated that approximately 12,000 women a year become mothers during their forties. There are inevitability risks both to the child and the mother, but by and large, most women who are 40 or older sail through their pregnancy without complications to themselves or their babies.

But there is a danger to the well being of a child who is born when the mother is older. I am speaking of the risk of the child having a birth defect called Down syndrome. Women are always at risk of having a child with certain birth defects involving chromosomes (the structures in cells that contain genes). At age 25, a woman has about a 1-in-1,250 chance of having a baby with Down syndrome, at age 30, a 1-in-1,000 chance, at age 35, a 1-in-400 chance, at age 40, a 1-in-100 chance, at 45, a 1-in-30 chance, At 49, a 1-in-10 chance. It affects about 1 in 800 babies.

Affected children with Down syndrome have varying degrees of mental retardation and physical birth defects. Almost half of babies with Down syndrome have heart defects. Some defects are minor and may be treated with medications, while others require surgery. About 12 percent of babies with Down syndrome are born with intestinal malformations that require surgery. More than 60 percent of children with Down syndrome have vision problems, including crossed eyes, near or far-sightedness and cataracts. Glasses, surgery or other treatments usually can improve their vision. About 75 percent of children with Down syndrome have some hearing loss Hearing loss may be due to fluid in the middle ear (which may be temporary), a nerve or both. Individuals with Down syndrome are more likely than unaffected individuals to develop Alzheimer's disease (characterized by progressive memory loss, personality changes and other problems). Adults with Down syndrome tend to develop Alzheimer's disease at an earlier age than unaffected individuals. Studies suggest that about 25 percent of adults with Down syndrome over age 35 have symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. There is no cure for Down syndrome, nor is there any way to prevent it. Many children born with this defect die much earlier in their lives than normal babies do.

The purpose of this piece however is to deal with multiple births brought about by ‘in-vitro fertilization’.

In February 2009, a 60-year-old woman in western Canada gave birth to twin boys after undergoing fertility treatments. She had tried for decades to conceive naturally and eventually went to India for fertility treatments. A growing number of women have turned to fertility treatments in India, where there are relatively lax regulations for such procedures. She might have had difficulty to get any doctor or clinic in North America to participate in such a venture because of her age.

Giving birth at that age is rare but not unheard of. She gave birth less than two years after another woman of the same age living in Saddle River, New Jersey, had twin boys after undergoing in-vitro fertilization. In 2006, a woman in Spain became what was believed to be the oldest new mother when she delivered twin boys at age 66. Women over 35 also are more likely to undergo fertility treatment, which also increases the chance of twins as well as triplets and other multiple births.

Ever since the Dionne quintuplets (girls conceived by natural means) the public has rejoiced at the arrival of triplets, quads and quints. But the hoopla can obscure enormous risks. Now the bizarre story of a California woman who gave birth to couplets through the means of in-vitro fertilization (implanted multiple embryos) has raised an uncomfortable question: Is it time to reject the multi-baby cult?

The California woman gave birth to octuplets (8) recently. There has been a change in the public's attitude toward multiple births. Initially, the world lauded Nadya Suleman, 33, and her 50-person medical team for successfully delivering six boys and two girls, the second-ever set of octuplets born alive. The gestation period was only 30 weeks. The smallest weighed less than two pounds. Despite early breathing troubles, the infants are thriving and have now lived longer than any octuplets on record.

But I am forced to ask; what was her motive to give birth to so many children? She already has six other children who are two to seven years old, all conceived through in-vitro fertilization and none fathered by the man she divorced last year. Surely having six children is enough especially since she is unemployed. Her father is going to Iraq as a translator so she will be relying on her mother to help her care for her children.

Apparently, having six children wasn’t enough for this woman. This baby factory (for want of a better phrase) went to a fertility clinic (who has chosen to remain unknown since medical experts are criticizing the unknown doctor for implanting eight embryos) and arranged to have six of her own frozen embryos — two of which split, creating eight babies — so that she could dramatically expand her brood.

She is obviously aware as to what happened when an Ohio woman had sextuplets in 1997. She ended up with her own baby reality show on the Learning channel, a life-time supply of Pampers, a free Hawaiian trip and a free tummy tuck. Is Mrs. Suleman expecting something similar? If she is, she must be disappointed because so far, no one really wants to associate their firms with the notoriety this woman is facing.

Before she left the hospital, she hired a public relations firm to field all the offers for television opportunities and book deals. That’s her motive. It's all about making a lot of money from the births of her children.

Was the doctor who brought this all about acting ethically? "Any program that would put in eight embryos (though in-vitro fertilization all at once) not only is acting unethically," said Professor Arthur Caplan, ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania. "I think they're getting close to malpractice." I totally agree with the professor. The doctor’s actions are shameful. What was his motive? Since he hasn’t publicly disclosed his name, we can be sure that it wasn’t done for fame. Was it done simply for money?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the cost to raise 14 children through high school can reach nearly $3 million. In California, the cost of a cesarean birth and the hospital stay of premature babies - like Suleman's - can top more than $1 million. Who is going to pay for all of this? Not Sulemen or her parents, that’s for sure.

Our planet is already over populated and when these babies reach the age of retirement, there will be a drain from the public purse for their pensions.

Having babies is what most couples want. However, no woman in her right mind would want to care for 14 babies when she has no means to care for them. Is this woman in her right mind? The answer to that question is no different than the answer you get when you ask if the pope is a non-Catholic?

The public support that this woman is getting is very little if any. In days gone by, she would have been run out of town with a pitchfork. Society doesn’t do that anymore. Instead, bloggers like me and other writers condemn people like this woman. Although I condemn her, I sincerely hope that her children come out of this unscathed since they had no say in this shameful act on the part of their mother.


The mother of the woman who used a fertility doctor to give birth to octuplets, despite already having six young children, called her daughter's actions unconscionable. Obviously, if her daughter gets a job, the grandmother will have to look after all 14 children on her own. That is an enormous task for any woman, let alone a grandmother who has to do it on her own.

The eight new-borns should be taken from the mother and each one given to a childless couple after it is determined as to whether or not any of the children are disabled. No other childless family should be saddled with any of Suleman's disabled children. Suleman, whose six older children range in age from 2 to 7, said on TV that three of them receive disability payments. She said one is autistic, but she has not disclosed the other youngsters' disabilities, and refused to say how much they get in payments. It is conceivable that some of the eight children she gave birth to will also suffer from disabilities. This will be a great drain on the taxpayers of California.

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