Octuplets —Eight Reasons to Regulate Reproduction?


Some idiotic fertility jockey enabled Nadya Suleman, a loony sad jobless single woman, to bear eight additional children (she already had six) by means of in vitro fertilization last month. Predictably, this irresponsible act has provoked calls for regulating fertility clinics. The birth of these octuplets is another example of the maxim: "Hard cases make bad law."

It is important to keep in mind that this case is a moral outlier. It is most definitely not what generally goes on in vast majority of fertility treatments. For example, most members of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine follow its embryo transfer guidelines which limit the number to two for women under 35 years of age and up to five for women over 40. The higher number for women over 40 is indicated because of the greater difficulty of having an embryo implant at that age. 

The would-be fertility clinic regulators' usual model is Britain's Human Embryology and Fertilisation Authority (HFEA). This is a bad idea. The HFEA slows down innovation and has often imposed the agency's own moral views on parents and physicians.

Assisted reproduction is one of the most innovative sectors of American medicine because it is largely unregulated. American doctors have pioneered techniques such as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). PGD allows patients to select and implant embryos that do not have certain disease genes. Some clinics also offer techniques that allow parents to gender-balance their families by selecting the sex of their babies. In addition, most people pay for fertility treatments out of pocket. (Interesting question–who paid for Suleman's treatment?) 

The chief problem with setting up a centralized fertility regulatory agency is mission creep—the new agency's bureaucrats would inevitably seek to expand their powers. Once it's set up, Congress will always be tempted to add to its authority in reaction to just such scandalous news stories as the birth of octuplets. While the Suleman case sadly shows that in very rare cases parents cannot be trusted to do what is best for their chilldren-to-be, the birth hundreds of thousands of healthy babies over the past 30 years using IVF argues strongly against any rush to regulate assisted reproduction.