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. 

NEXT: Eleven O'Clock Links

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I would LOVE to see how they can regulate this.

    What, you aren’t (sane, wealthy, married) enough to have kids?

    The constitutional law on reproductive rights is pretty solid that the government has no business regulating your privates. Or, by proxy, the medical treatment you need to have kids (except for safety).

    So I’d love to see them try to regulate it. Especially when the pro-lifers show up with a crowbar to widen that wedge into other reproductive rights.

  2. Maybe the Fertility Jockey should pay child support.

  3. Easy solution: the sperm donor (supposedly a friend of hers) and the fuckwad fertility doctor get to support the brats.

  4. I’m still having trouble picturing how eight babies fit inside one woman at the same time. Even Kronos only swallowed five.

  5. A few questions I haven’t been able to find the answers to:

    Has Suleman ever received or asked for child support or public assistance from anyone?

    If yes, was it granted to her?

    If not, why would anyone care how many kids she has other than the fact it will be more than a dozen in public school that we all pay for? There are people with that many kids, they just don’t have them all at once.

    How the hell did this woman afford the IVF? It’s not cheap and she’s had it multiple times. If she’s jobless, her insurance couldn’t cover it, right? If she is on public welfare, there should if there isn’t already, a restriction on IVF. Don’t know about CA, but in NY an employer has to opt to offer the coverage, it is not covered by the state.

  6. Let’s hope the larger and stronger members of the litter will devour the weakest.

  7. Well, Nick, one related issue that I do have reliable information in:

    It is estimated by the hospital where this occurred that the cost to discharge for these kids will be around $3.2 million (eight preemies run up a hell of a tab).

    She ain’t paying that out of pocket, and neither will any insurance company, so, one way or another, it winds up on the taxpayer tab (mostly through Medicare/Medicaid cost reports).

  8. 14 children ought to give her a new HDTV television each month from the child benefits.

  9. “I’m still having trouble picturing how eight babies fit inside one woman at the same time.”

    My wife only had twins, and even they ran out of room and had to escape early.

    Best solution: no government assistance, no government interference in private lives.

    Not an easy solution, but we should be working in that direction rather than saying — hell, as long as we’re paying for her litter, the government should get a say in how big it is.

  10. JW, I see the point in your post and agree with the sentiment. But I do have a great fear of someone telling me that I can only reproduce under certain detailed circumstances, excepting the requirement that any kids I have are my choice, my responsibility.

    This is part of what makes up my somewhat conflicted feeling about welfare. We know women and men have options when it comes to choosing to have children, and if you know you cannot afford one or more, then you probably should not have them – or at least not rely on other people to spend the money on the upkeep of your kids.

    However, as a new parent and a person who hopes to have many more children, I could not imagine denying a child (note, not the parents) care, nourishment, love, education, interaction, shelter, and any of the other necessities and warm fuzzies that go into raising a healthy person.

    Whether or not Suleman expects the government to support her kids, she made a conscious choice to have them and is hopefully aware of the consequences. If she is not, though, I wonder why the kids have to suffer for it…I know, the big joke here is that “its fer teh children,” but I really do feel bad that infants/toddlers, who cannot provide for themselves, have to be left at the mercy of unthinking or uncaring parents (biological or otherwise) and yet be expected to grow up and become educated, compassionate individuals.

    The situation is fly-paper sticky. I would never want to regulate a person’s right to reproduce or raise his/her children as he/she sees fit (unless said child(ren) are being neglected or abused), but I am not sure where I would draw the line at providing capital to support children whose needs outstrip the resources of his or her family.

  11. The woman is a college graduate who was previously employed as a “psychiatric technician” or something like that. She is pursuing a Master’s Degree in counseling. I was told she was injured on the job when attacked by mental patients and received disability. While providing for 15 might be a stretch on any salary, she is obviously capable of earning money.

    We do not know if the father provides any support, how much the family has, if there are any rich uncles,etc.

    Also there is a millionaire couple who have 8 kids and have a show on TLC. When they had their sextuplets, they were on welfare. The husband appears to have no marketable skills ( there is some story to whether the Governor arranged a job for him when he was not qualified) or any interest in working. They just moved into a mansion and seem to have no problem going on unlimited vacations and obtaining any “stuff” they need- presumably from their TLC earnings and/or comped by sponsors. If these shiftless idiots Jon and Kate can become millionaires by pimping out 8 kids, I’m sure the woman with 14 can find someone willing to pay her 6 figures for a documentary, sponsor certain things, freebies,etc.

    Maybe she can replace the Duggars, the Roloffs, or any of these other families getting rich off reality shows exploiting their kids.

  12. You see this sort of madness in a strong welfare state. When the safety net becomes a hammock, don’t be shocked when people take a nap in it.

  13. This 33 year old single woman is unemployed, has 6 fatherless children (one of whom has autism), lives with her bankrupt parents and decides that she wants another 8 fatherless children to fulfill her life. What a selfish and immature woman!!!
    Who’s going to pay for these 14 children, the bankrupt grandparents???? No, taxpayers like you and I.

    Though public records show that Nadya Suleman was on the payroll at Metropolitan State Hospital until last year, it appears that she did little work (if any) after September 1999 due to a workman’s compensation injury (back injury and psychiatric condition) in which she’s received up to $165,000 in compensation. She filed an additional claim for worker’s compensation for a separate car accident in which she argued that this car accident wouldn’t have occurred had she not been going for medical treatment for the earlier worker’s comp. injury.

    Apparently Nadya Suleman knows how to “work” the system and will have no trouble finding the funds to support her large family and stupid decisions for the next 18+ years.

  14. Good points, Nick and RC Dean.

    It’s just not possible to penalize this woman after the fact — capping or reducing her child support or medical bills would only penalize the children and create more public burden through their inevitable delinquency.

    Seizing the children is hugely anti-libertarian.

    Suspect that they’ll get lots of private and corporate donations throughout their lives, but we’re still paying for their public education, hospital bills, etc. Ugh.

  15. Seizing the children is hugely anti-libertarian.

    Maybe some sort of indentured servitude?

  16. she was injured on the job when attacked by mental patients

    I knew *crazy* was contagious!

  17. I imagine that intentionally impregnating a woman with octuplets would be a serious, serious health hazard. It seems like it was a success (depending on how you define that term), but I can’t beleive something like this isn’t somewhat covered under existing laws. No doctor in their right mind should perform a purely elective procedure with such a high risk of injury and complication. Whoever the doctor is, he must have some amazing malpractice insurance.

  18. ‘It is important to keep in mind that this case is a moral outlier.’

    With cutting-edge science, it’s often hard to tell the difference between the moral outliers and the vanguard.

    In any case, standard IVF practice has already crossed several moral lines – destruction of human embryos, separating sex from procreation, encouraging single motherhood, just to name a few.

    Having swallowed these camels, I notice that Bailey and many commenters seem to have trouble avoiding swallowing this gnat.

    How *do* you draw the line between promoting single motherhood in a good way and promoting it in a bad way? Should there be a maximum number of kids? 14? 8? 2?

    A more bright-line test would be to say that destroying one human life is destrying one too many, and that deliberately creating a human being knowing it won’t be raised by both parents is one child too many.

  19. And when it comes to trafficking in children, one is too many.

  20. I’m just going to leave all my moral decisions to Mad Max from now on. He’s obviously plugged in to some higher authority.

  21. Max, I’m confused. Separating sex from procreation is bad? You do know what Catholic school girls do to avoid getting pregnant and to stay “virgins”, right?

  22. Max, Duncan Donuts brought freebies to the newsroom today. Should I eat them? (The city editor says “no.”)

  23. I nominate ed as threadwinner. I choked on my mushroom at that comment.

  24. @ MadMax, I while I agree that destroying one human life is destroying one too many, I am not sure I follow when it comes to advocating a two-parent household. I see the distinction some will draw between a single-mother deliberately choosing to have a child, and the parent who (married or not) has a child and a person willing to be the other parent yet, due to circumstances (death, illness, mental incapacity) beyond his or her control, cannot contribute to the raising of the child. Yet I fail to see why single parenthood should be a factor in deciding the reproductive rights of individuals.

    If nature intended that parenthood should not occur outside of dual parent households, then fertility would be bound by some sort of recognition of the (more or less) permanent presence of a second parent in a household.

    What about mothers or fathers who do not intend to be single parents, but end up that way due to the death of the other parent? Should we as a society decide to intervene and remove the children to a two-parent family just to satisfy a societal desire for kids to be raised in “normal” households?

  25. Citizen Nothing, the catechism says nothing about eating donuts–unless they’re made from EMBRYOS!!!

  26. OK, Stretch, it’s standard procedure with IVF to implant multiple embryos since there’s a good chance that most of those embryos will not survive. There’s a high rate of spontaneous abortion even with naturally conceived embryos, which makes anti-abortion nutjobs (like Mad Max) uncomfortable, but as long as “God” does it, it’s OK.

    Anyway, many IVF patients are left with the choice of having twins, trips, etc, or “deselecting” (aborting) some embryos.

  27. separating sex from procreation

    WooHoo!

  28. Mad Max,

    Why is other people’s procreation method any of your business on moral grounds? Like we’ve all agreed, any tax dollars going to support this woman or her kids are reason enough to be pissed at her immaturity and recklessness (also could be read: theft), but what if she had IVF on her own with no father other than a willing donor (sperm bank or family friend qualifies) and the procedure produced one child that she cared for completely with her own funds?

    Why, in that instance, should you give a shit how the woman came to have the child? Because a book written a long time ago by people with little concept of science or the possibility of 21st Century human accomplishments for that matter, alludes you to believe it should be done THAT way and only THAT way?

  29. Nick, I think this comes down to whether a child should have one parent with a penis and one with a vagina. This is important to some people.

  30. OK, Mad Max, here’s a question: American Soldier, Private Smith, is married to Mrs. Smith. Private Smith, for whatever reason, has banked some sperm. Pvt. Smith gets deployed, and dies valiantly protecting American freedom and democracy from the Taliban. Eventually, widow Smith decides she wants children, even though she has not yet remarried.

    Mad Max, would you prohibit Mrs. Smith from using IVF to impregnate herself with Private Smith’s child?

    (Ducks under tarpaulin to avoid the goo as christo-talibani’s head explodes like the aliens in “Mars Attacks”)

  31. When the safety net becomes a hammock, don’t be surpised when people sleep in it.

    SF, did you make that up?

  32. “I choked on my mushroom at that comment.”

    I could never reach. Did you have ribs removed? Seems extreme to me, but hey, good for you.

  33. Has Suleman ever received or asked for child support or public assistance from anyone?

    That’s my concern. After all, my lifelong dream is to have a threesome, but I’m not going to ask Uncle Sam to pay for my hookers.

  34. She ain’t paying that out of pocket, and neither will any insurance company, so, one way or another, it winds up on the taxpayer tab (mostly through Medicare/Medicaid cost reports).

    Is this true? From what I gather, she sought fertility treatment on her own dime, and at around 12 weeks or so, came to her insurance provider, Kaiser Permanente, in need of prenatal care. Is Kaiser going to walk away from this patient’s bills and dump them on the State? Not that I could blame them, but do they have this ability?

    It also seems likely that she refused selective terminations, which is the usual way of doing business with this kind of fertility treatment. I’m sure the bean counters at Kaiser raised a few eyebrows over this.

  35. Nick, I think that the idea that the tax money collected from others, the public education system, and the health insurance provisions made for those with no or little coverage, are what enabled Suleman to make her decisions.

    I cannot say that she does not have the emotional capacity to care for her children – she may or may not – but the financial resources needed to care for eight newborns are abundant and it does not appear that she has the money to provide for their needs. She may have had these kids with the expectation that she would not have to provide for their needs herself, because welfare would take care of those needs for her. In that sense, I think she was misguided in her decision. But I would still never, every deny the children the things they need to survive and thrive.

  36. I was referring to these. But hey, I wouldn’t mind being known for that too.

  37. If you do go through IVF you should be ineligible for public assistance.

  38. I was referring to these. But hey, I wouldn’t mind being known for that too.

    Seven bucks a pound for fucking mushrooms? Tell me you didn’t pay for that, zoltan, and were just using a generic mushroom picture.

  39. SF, did you make that up?

    I first wrote a version of it here a few years ago, but I won’t say I didn’t hear somewhere first and forgot about it. (i.e. I think I made it up but wouldn’t be surprised if someone found someone else who said it first.)

  40. ::hangs head:: I just bought though from Central Market like 20 minutes ago. But if you just buy 8 oz of the small buttons they’re $1.99.

  41. *them, not though

  42. “Max, I’m confused. Separating sex from procreation is bad? You do know what Catholic school girls do to avoid getting pregnant and to stay “virgins”, right?”

    http://www.saddlebacking.com

  43. Well I plan to quote you liberally.

  44. This is television gold for decades to come!

    First, the cutesy bunch-o-babies show: EIGHT ISN’T ENOUGH!

    Then, as ‘tweens, with their teen siblings, they form a rock band. Partridge Family 21st Century. And if we can read anything in from that name, they could do exotic, world music kind of pop.

    Later: a pro wrestling league of their own, plus a series of intervention-type shows when the kids turn into screw-ups.

    And in the crazy mom… I’m getting the popcorn.

    I’m hoping that the way she got 8 embryos implanted was going to 4 differenct clinics and not telling them about each other. That would be a great story.

  45. “separating sex from procreation”

    It’s easy. I do it all of the time.

  46. I think it was irresponsible to get IVF after already having 6 kids, but once she did go through with the procedure, I don’t begrudge her at all for not selectively reducing any babies from her litter. How do you choose? Hell, the doctors only thought she was having 7 and they didn’t know it was 8 until they cut her open.

    Also, regarding the money she may make from companies and charities, I heard companies that normally provide necessities in instances like these, are staying away because of her irresponsibility. I hope she gets nothing. Not that I want her kids to suffer but I want her to have to struggle to provide for them. No freebies for her, imo.

  47. One thing that mystifies me is how religious conservatives can be opposed to birth control and abortion, but are happy with totally unnatural methods of conception like in-vitro fertilization.

    The dumbest examples of this stuff always come from religious fundies who ceceive eight embryos and then feel morally obligated to bring them all to term.

    There should be some kind of religious dictate against unnatural conception. That was we could weed these freaks out of the gene pool.

  48. “Seven bucks a pound for fucking mushrooms? Tell me you didn’t pay for that, zoltan, and were just using a generic mushroom picture.”

    But it comes with a Texas hanky, cookbook, and a basket.

  49. Who are the religious fundies having IVF? Not this woman. Even the ones who do are opposed to destroying unwanted embryos.

  50. I believe it was never her plan to have 8 kids, but to have the 8 remaining embryos from her previous fertility treatments implanted rather than destroyed. Typically, a couple of those embryos will die natural deaths early in the process. In other cases, people choose “selective reduction” (i.e., abort some, save some) but suleyman is clearly not an abortion advocate.

    I also feel that we don’t need laws against this sort of thing because there are massive natural incentives in not turning your uterus into fetal central station.

  51. But it comes with a Texas hanky, cookbook, and a basket.

    Actually that whole basket thing is 35 bucks.

  52. “The dumbest examples of this stuff always come from religious fundies who ceceive eight embryos and then feel morally obligated to bring them all to term.”

    If G-d had wanted them to have children, He wouldn’t have made them infertal.

    Why don’t they ever grasp that?

  53. hotsauce,

    Tear it up, buddy. I’ll finally have some vindication for my Creative Writing degree.

  54. @Episiarch
    “I’m still having trouble picturing how eight babies fit inside one woman at the same time. Even Kronos only swallowed five.”

    Mmm! Nummy!

  55. One thing that mystifies me is how religious conservatives can be opposed to birth control and abortion, but are happy with totally unnatural methods of conception like in-vitro fertilization.

    Um… many ARE against unnatural methods of conception. See, e.g., Wikipedia.org: In vitro fertilisation: religious objections.

  56. Many meaning the leadership and some followers of the Catholic Church.

  57. We need to inoculate people at birth so they can’t have kids until given a Baby Booster so we can keep these morons from popping out so many kids they won’t be able to feed them, Or for the idiots that put their kid in a microwave because they think thats how to warm them up.

  58. From what I gather, she sought fertility treatment on her own dime, and at around 12 weeks or so, came to her insurance provider, Kaiser Permanente, in need of prenatal care. Is Kaiser going to walk away from this patient’s bills and dump them on the State? Not that I could blame them, but do they have this ability?

    I would be very surprised to learn that Kaiser does not have a lifetime cap on her benefits. It sounds like she’s already put a pretty good dent in that cap even before this latest escapade.

    Kaiser may be on the hook for some of it, but in all probability not all of it. If Kaiser wanted to, they could probably deny the entire claim on the basis that the procedure, as performed, was unethical/malpractice.

  59. ‘Max, I’m confused. Separating sex from procreation is bad? You do know what Catholic school girls do to avoid getting pregnant and to stay “virgins”, right?’

    I suppose I don’t loiter around the right schools, so you’ll have to enlighten me. Be reassured that many Catholic schools have given up teaching anything recognizable as Catholicism.

    ‘What about mothers or fathers who do not intend to be single parents, but end up that way due to the death of the other parent?’

    What I objected to was ‘deliberately creating a child knowing it won’t be raised by both parents.’ In your hypo, the mother and father ‘do not intend to be single parents,’ so what’s the relevance to what I said?

    ‘Max, Duncan Donuts brought freebies to the newsroom today. Should I eat them? (The city editor says “no.”)’

    That depends on what kind of publication you work for. If it’s part of the mainstream media (or the Media Formerly Known as Mainstream), the best advice is to do the opposite of whatever the editor wants. Good advice whether you work for the publication or not.

  60. I’m still waiting for the results before I decide if Nadya Suleman was irresponsible. She planned on supporting her large family by selling her story and going on TV interviews. If she does get millions from this, is there anything morally wrong with it?

  61. ‘OK, Mad Max, here’s a question: American Soldier, Private Smith, is married to Mrs. Smith. Private Smith, for whatever reason, has banked some sperm. Pvt. Smith gets deployed, and dies valiantly protecting American freedom and democracy from the Taliban. Eventually, widow Smith decides she wants children, even though she has not yet remarried.

    ‘Mad Max, would you prohibit Mrs. Smith from using IVF to impregnate herself with Private Smith’s child?’

    That comes under ‘deliberately creating a child knowing it won’t be raised by both parents,’ – and it also comes under separating sex from procreation. It looks like the creation of a baby as a consolation prize for the widow Smith.

    As to the extent the state should criminalize all this, the first step is not to subsidize it, and then to take targeted measures against those abuses which can least be tolerated – like killing children (notice that I didn’t say *unborn* children, because these IVF kids are outside the womb at the time of coming into existence, and if they’re killed because they don’t work out, they never see the inside of a womb).

    For the rest, there are prudential considerations which may, in some cases, weigh against a ban – like the Widow Smiths of the world who contrive to use their husband’s post-mortem sperm. The cost of policing all this may outweigh the cost of permitting it (not subsidizing, permitting). It would be like some cases of fornication, still illegal, but when was the first time you heard of a prosecution?

    (I can actually imagine scenarios where folks are still married and one of them has a terminal illness but they have procreative sex anyway – that would have competing equities, since procreative sex ought to be the rule not the exception in marriage. But I noticed nobody tried to trip me up on this one, I had to come up with it myself.)

  62. In the case of Widow Smith: if I were to put myself in a similar situation, I would have 1 or 5 or 10 babies if I could. It might not be “reasonable” but I love my husband without fail, and if I could find a way to keep his genetic line running on this earth, then I would, even if he were dead (and had banked sperm, etc. etc.).

    Reproduction is our way of ensuring our genetic material continues on. For better or worse, we reproduce with people we find attractive enough to share our genetic material. More socio-cultural factors go into reproduction than we can ever account for – this is where religion comes into effect as a control on the reproductive activities of societies. But my own social mores demanded I wait until I had the relative stability of income and partnership that I feel are required for raising children.

    One thing for which we can never account is the emotional aspect of childbearing and childrearing. If I lost my husband but had his genetic material handy to make babies, I would have as many of “his” children as I could, just because of the emotional attachment I have to him and his legacy. It’s not rational or reasonable, it’s emotional, and that is where the sticky happens, and why we should never, ever legislate reproductive rights. If the adherents of a particular religion choose to obey religious law governing the subject, so be it, but I would not want to be subject to those particular requirements just because they say it’s “right.”

  63. In addition, most people pay for fertility treatments out of pocket. (Interesting question–who paid for Suleman’s treatment?)

    She was on disability for six years earing around $165,000. Methinks it came out of that.

  64. Paul,

    $165,000 over six years in $27.5K p.a.

    I’m pretty sure that kind of money gets eaten up by normal living expenses without much left over for something like this.

  65. Unless & until it can be shown that the children are suffering because of the size of the family, this is nobody’s business but hers. There are are plenty of messed up kids who come from small families with two traditional parents. MYOB.

  66. The birth of these octuplets is another example of the maxim: “Hard cases make bad law.”

    So is a 13 year old girl getting raped by her half-Neanderthal older brother…yet that’s the litmus test for our abortion jurisprudence.

  67. The solution is simple: you wanna start crankin’ out babies, you have to opt out of the welfare system. Let some of these “Gawd will provide” idiots find out who actually does provide…

  68. I yield to no man nor no woman neither in my admiration for Ron Bailey, but what’s with the kneejerk vituperation of this woman? Are we all Malthusians suddenly? The clinic isn’t under any obligation to make a determination about her fitness to have children, and she’s entitled to have as many kids as she wants, just like anybody else on earth.

    The idea that we can sit here and make any informed decision about the externalized costs of creating eight new souls is a) absurd and b) about as far from any notion of individual dignity as you can get. Even if you could make that decision, I don’t see how we can condemn the woman’s actions and still believe in individual choice in any serious way.

  69. No one is saying this woman should not have had the choice to do this. But it is moronic to have many children and not be able to provide for them. Your reference to Malthus is a bit of a red herring here, as no one is criticizing this woman for the obvious increase in the use of resources these children will cause. She may be entitled to have as many children as she wants, but a doctor should be able to decline her fertility treatment and the government security net apparatus should not be at her disposal. And yes, there is a good argument to be made that a woman with no job or extra help will not be able to be a good mother to fourteen children. Her decision is regrettable and unfortunate to most people who look at it, especially for the children.

  70. Her decision is regrettable and unfortunate to most people who look at it, especially for the children.

    Wouldn’t the opposite decision have been even more regrettable for the children?

  71. I’m sure she and the kids have a “love/eight” relationship.

  72. The article doesn’t say if this woman actually WANTED 8 more children. Is it possible she only wanted one more and ended up with 7 extras?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.