February 2nd, 2009
10:28 AM ET

Octuplets Fallout: Should fertility specialists set limits?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/HEALTH/01/30/embryos.ethics/art.octuplets.house.cnn.jpg caption="The octuplets' family's home in Whittier, California, near Los Angeles."]

Bonnie Rochman

Just about the time that eight babies began growing inside a California woman's womb, some nationwide policies about fertility treatment were being codified. In June, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine issued updated "Guidelines on Number of Embryos Transferred." Women und 35 — the octuplets' mom is reportedly 33 — should attempt to transfer no more than two, and preferably only one, fertilized embryo at a time. Women over 40 should attempt no more than five.

How the California woman, apparently a single mother who already has six young children, including a set of twins, got pregnant is the subject of rampant speculation. But regardless of whether the octuplets are the result of in vitro fertilization (IVF) or fertility drugs — with the latter having historically been available on the cheap in Mexico — there is little doubt that from a medical and ethical perspective, something went very wrong. And fertility specialists now find themselves on the defensive, trying to fend off the perception that theirs is an undisciplined, irresponsible profession.


soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Chris in Az.

    I have NO problem asking the govt. to keep their noses out of someones reproductive business. BUT, I think people should go through the same steps for artificial insemination processes as they do for adoption. (prove they have financial & medical means to support the child/ren, etc)
    We don't have all the facts yet, correct. But we do know she had no job, no income, lived with her parents in a small home they bought for her before they filed bankruptsy, (she filed as well) no husband, at one point or currently (wasn't verified which) was on welfare.. JUST with this....no sane, well-adjusted mother concerned with making sure she can provide financial and medical support for her half a dozen children, would have gone on to have ONE more let alone 8. She needs a psych eval! BEFORE she takes those babies home. Listen to her mother...she KNOWS her daughter is a mega byte short of a hard drive. Read her mothers comments.
    I'm struggling with my two kids, making 35K a year, etc. The kids are working and saving for their college as well as what we can put in. No complaints! I knew I could only support 2 kids, so I ONLY had 2 kids!! Wow...what a concept.
    ...BUT you watch. Someone will come along, give them free college educations, free car...can't wait to see what construction company builds them a new home...we've seen this before, right? All this, and then they'll get their own reality show...bingo...instant millionaires!
    Well, if they go that route...at least I won't be paying for it out of my taxes....via welfare!
    Those 8 babies are truly the victims here as well as her other 6 children. I wish ALL her children a long, healthy life. Shame on their selfish mother. All this for money and fame??? NO? Prove it!!!!

    February 3, 2009 at 3:19 am |
  2. Chris in Az.

    One report - she was on welfare? Parents filed bankruptsy after buying her a home? 6 children already, no husband and no job. How does a welfare mother pay for in vitro? Why would a Dr. do it?
    Shame on those companies and t.v. shows waiting to get the "exclusive" and pay her tons of money... She's out for the fame and to get rich. I personally will not watch, nor will I buy from any company that gives her money.
    Not to mention the thousands if not million for medical bills...and we know SHE'S not going to pay it.
    Let her dad take the whole family back to Iran or Iraq and let his country support them.
    Where do we put a stop in allowing welfare mothers and deadbeat dads keep procreating? Birth control implants anyone?

    February 3, 2009 at 2:23 am |
  3. m.w.

    to want her 15 minutes in the limelight is frightening. Does she not understand she is messing with 14 other lives! FREAKS! We are mad with all the frivolous spending of the corporate giants? I am more upset with this woman. Talk about irresponsible!! All she wants is to make money off all these kids. Bottom line you have to have a licence to have a dog but any dumb SOB can have kids. What she did is not special its a freak show that you and I are all going to have to pay for in a big way!! No husband,no help,no monetary backing if this is what she wants is 14 kids then fine DO IT ON YOUR OWN!! Don't expect me or john Q. Public clean up your mess! Millions of people are out of work and all she can do is spit out kids for us to support!

    February 2, 2009 at 5:26 pm |
  4. Teresa E. West Bloomfield, MI

    WOW! sounds like a whole lot of assuming and guessing about this poor woman. Do not judge. Do not assume. #1 do not take bits and pieces to get you facts. It is her body, her family and her choice!!
    We all have heard the saying what happens when we assume. As for Mary in Utah wow thats the pot calling the kettle black. I moved here from Sandy, Utah. Families are bigger than this one in Utah. So what if she wants a big family. Mormons do it just fine. The large families I knew did just fine and better than some small ones. I grew up in a family of 9. We were not on welfare and we were not rich but we have a close loving family. I say the woman will do just fine. Her family is apparently right by her side ready to support her. When she actually files for welfare lets then give our opinions. When we actually have the whole story lets then discuss the facts. I don't see anything as clearly as some of you yet. Even when I do I will stand behind her. If she abuses or neglects any of these children or I feel they are in any immediate danger then I will be 1st in line to start taking away rights. Til then let show some love and support!

    February 2, 2009 at 3:51 pm |
  5. Jeanette

    You can bet our tax money will raise these children. I'd like to know why she was being paid to do this??

    Before these fertility treatments are given they should have to sign a legal document stating they can never receive any aid from our government for any children conceived in this manner. She has already proven what lengths she will go to in order to get money.

    February 2, 2009 at 3:30 pm |
  6. Julie San Diego, CA

    For some couples where the father brings home a good paycheck, the couple has a stable, long-term marriage, and the parents-to-be have help to take care of the babies (family, friends, neighbors, paid nannies and doulas), implanting 3 embryos resulting in 3 live births is a blessing.

    This woman had none of the above. She is a "collector", the same way that some people have 65 cats in their house.

    She uses her fertility to control everyone in her circle, because who can leave a baby in need?

    Forget the debate on how many embryos to transfer. The real issue is that this woman has proved she does not have the judgement to be a parent.

    Remove ALL the children to protective custody and offer them for adoption to the millions of worthy couples desperately waiting to become parents.

    February 2, 2009 at 3:16 pm |
  7. sean brizendine

    its tacky but i assume legal this is still a free country


    February 2, 2009 at 2:40 pm |
  8. GF, Los Angeles

    Yes this woman is a single mother as reported by local news. She lives with her parents in a very small house. Neighbors who were interviewed have said they've rarely if ever have seen the 6 children (ranging in age from 2 – 7) which makes me wonder what type of conditions are they being raised in.

    If a person decides to use government assistance to care for their children then yes I believe we the people have every right to tell someone how many children they can have. I'm tired of going to the grocery stores and seeing someone use WIC and food stamps when they have 4 kids or more in tow. If you can't take care of what you have, stop procreating and forcing the taxpayers to fund money for those kids. It's not our problem but yours.

    February 2, 2009 at 2:25 pm |
  9. Steve - SE PA

    It's no big deal if the family can pay for all this themselves. However, if it becomes a burdon on the taxpayer, policy must be written.

    February 2, 2009 at 2:13 pm |
  10. Michelle D. Fonthill,Ont

    How irresposible of the doctor who preformed this procedure. There shuld be a malpractice suit flied against him for having this woman carry so may emybros. They should screen people further how did this slip through the cracks ? How can she afford to take care of all of these children ? It's to dangerous not only for the mother but the lives of her unborn children . I can't beleive she was being used as guinea pig. Human lives are not meant to be manipulated by science .

    February 2, 2009 at 2:01 pm |
  11. Heather,ca

    From what I have read about this single mother she is not what she is potrayed as. She has never been married. Meaning she did invitro the fertility thing from day one the last time. The other six are via sperm donor. Plus those treatments costs tens od thousands of dollars. Im thinking welfare and automatic medical for pregnant women. She lost her house to forclure and moved in with her parents. Her mother filed for bankruptcy. She says she didnt pay for the last fertility treatments. Medical does not pay for that. No proper doctor puts in all the embyros and why would you anyway if you have six kids. Something does not add up or smell right.

    February 2, 2009 at 1:34 pm |
  12. Lisa

    I don't have a problem with anybody having any number of kids... that they can take care of. In this case – recent bankruptcy in family, lives with parents in modest 3-bedroom house – I have a sneaking suspicion that you and I will be paying to raise these kids - not to mention their astronomical medical bills.
    Like Cindy, I want to know what kind of experiement was going on here that this woman was either paid or given IVF for free. I've heard it's very expensive. Sounds very suspicious.

    February 2, 2009 at 12:52 pm |
  13. Steve in Las Vegas,NV

    Just how is this mother going to support 14 children? What is she thinking?? Some parents can barely take care of 1 or 2 kids, let alone 14. And who is paying this hospital bill? The taxpayers??

    Hello, welfare office?...I got 14 kids and need some help!!!

    February 2, 2009 at 12:52 pm |
  14. Marta

    I agree that the government setting the number of children people are allowed to have is someplace I don't want to see this country go. But I also have a problem with these people having all these children and not being able to afford them. I've been off and on welfare for the entire time my children were growing up so this isn't a rant against welfare mothers. I think this entire country is in too much of a "I want it, so I don't care" mode. Just because you WANT all those kids doesn't mean you should have them all. This coincides with the financial crisis we find ourselves in. We've come to believe that our consititutional rights mean we can have whatever we want, whenever we want and to hell with the consequences down the road – our happiness at that moment is what we're entitled to.

    February 2, 2009 at 12:18 pm |
  15. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT

    @ Cindy..... you are RIGHT.

    February 2, 2009 at 12:11 pm |
  16. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT

    YES....... how irresponsible of the doctor who administered or granted the drug treatment to this woman! She is clearly off-balance.

    Sure she IS FREE to choose, however, what about the SIX children who have no voice?

    February 2, 2009 at 12:11 pm |
  17. c,ca

    This WHOLE story is fishy – from start to finish. Unfortunately, the babies are the victims.

    Aside from the ethical issues and the medical problems these kids are going to encounter – how about the cost? The doctors from Kaiser said that she came to them in her first trimester. Why did they accept her as a patient when she had a pre-existing condition? My son had heart surgery when he was very young. My husband lost his job when my son was in grade school and we tried to join Kaiser through cobra. Although my son is perfectly fine after the surgery, Kaiser would not accept us, saying that my son's previous medical issues disqualified us.

    Was the mother considered medically-indigent so Kaiser had to accept her as a patient? Somebody is going to have to pay for her medical costs – I've got a feeling it's going to be me. I couldn't pay Kaiser to take on my child but I have to pay them to care for these children?

    I live in California. The State is broke. They are laying off teachers, doubling up classrooms, and putting government workers on furloughs. They are going to issue IOUs on tax refunds. I don't begrudge the infants the medical care that they need, and I know that physicians cannot force a patient to do something they do not want to do, but I can't help but be angry about this story.

    February 2, 2009 at 12:02 pm |
  18. Kelly D

    This issue is both financially and emotionally charged. Although the ASRM and the SART (Society of Assisted Reproductive Technologies) have established guidelines this industry is not really regulated. Fertility treatments are not covered by insurance so many couples are spending their life savings to have a child (adoption is expensive too). If insurance would step in and offer fertility treatments as a covered benefit I think two things would happen, 1) IVF would become the preferred method of treatment because it offers less risk for high-order multiple gestations, 2) with the reduction of IUIs and better regulation of IVF there would be fewer twins and high-order multiples which are costing insurance companies a lot of money.

    I believe in reproductive rights for women, but with regard to fertility treatments the financial burden on couples puts pressure on getting pregnant quickly, even when that increases the risks for multiples. As someone who used IVF to build my family, I understand the complexities of these issues.

    February 2, 2009 at 11:53 am |
  19. Cindy

    @ Tori...She used the same sperm donor for all of her kids. That is right..all 14 kids were conceived by in vitro. His name is listed on their birth certificates as the dad.

    @ Sharon Wallace...She is not married and never has been. According to her mother she does not want to be married but wanted kids since she was a teenager but had problems so she went the fertility route.

    As to the Iraq reference..that is her dad. He is an Iraqi and is going back there to work and send money back here to them.

    She told her nanny that she could afford the treatments because they were paying her to do it. So I want to know why? Was she being used as a guinea pig?


    February 2, 2009 at 11:48 am |
  20. Mojustice

    It is the woman's choice if she wishes to have zero pregnancies or if she wishes to have multiple pregnancies. Reproductive rights cover the gauntlet from no pregnancies to numerous pregnancies. I agree w/ Annie Kate, I'd be uncomfortable dictating what women can and cannot do with their reproductive system.

    Having said that, I believe the woman was irresponsible in her decision to give birth to eight children when she already had six children under the age of seven years. She has placed an unnecessary burden on herself and her family. However, based upon the limited reports I've read or heard, the family is prepared to assume the responsibility and care of the infants.

    Reproductive rights are not just about abortion. These rights protect birth control, multiple births, hysterectomy, single or multiple births, fertility and abortion. Maybe this case will shine a light on the range of reproductive options available to women and eliminate the unfair focus on abortion, which is only one birth control method covered under reproductive rights,

    We must continue to advocate for reproductive rights and not be distracted by the calculated focus on abortion. Do we as women want to continue to recieve contraceptives If so, then we must prevent the erosion of the rights secured under Roe V Wade. Repoductive rights are not about abortion. Its about the right of woment to define her own destiny w/out government interference. Gov. Palin exercised her reproductive rights when she decided to have her baby, even thought tests showed he had down syndrome. And Bristo Palin exercised her reproductive rights when she made the choice to become a teenanged mother. The woman who gave birth to the eight infants also exercised her choice not to reduce number of fetuses.

    I don't see men having Congress debate their reproductive choices.
    I don't think women should have to debate their reproductive choices either. Protect reproductive rights of women.

    February 2, 2009 at 11:30 am |
  21. hanger

    i would be comfortable with making the fertilization process as involved as the adoption process. confirming ability to provide support, etc.

    now, i'm going to write what was formerly known as "the learning channel" (we call it "tfc", the freak channel) and beg them not to give this fool girl a show featuring her fertility. she is hoping, with publicist in tow, that the fact that she (like most women) can push children out her birthing canal, now makes her "a child expert" worthy of television attention.

    February 2, 2009 at 11:15 am |
  22. Sharone Wallace

    First I am quite sure I read an article on CNN that stated she was married and her husband was overseas in Iraq.. Please someone clarify that for me.

    I am not sure why she wanted more children when she already had 6 to begin with?

    I however do not think the government has the right to tell someone how many children they should have... which would be essentially what would happen if you limit the number of embryo's can be transferred.

    February 2, 2009 at 11:00 am |
  23. xtina, chicago IL

    It's too much like a police state for the fed. gov't to be setting limits on number of embryos for fertility treatments. Don't the Congress have enough to do without getting into the medical treatments of Americans?

    February 2, 2009 at 10:58 am |
  24. Linda Strasberg

    I think it's a scary thought to conceive one, let alone eight at one time...that's why we have puppies...so they can do it.

    February 2, 2009 at 10:53 am |
  25. Cindy

    I think that there does need to be a number set as to legally how many embryos can be implanted into a woman. There is no way anyone can raise eight babies on their own without having to get money from us in the form of welfare, Medicaid and the like unless they are millionaires. Plus any more babies then two or three at a time is too dangerous during pregnancy for both mom and babies.

    The doctor also should look at where the person lives, how many children she has already, and her income. There is no way anyone with six kids who lives at home with her parents should have been given any fertility treatments at all!

    I would like to know why was this woman being paid to do these fertility treatments? Were they using her as a guinea pig? In my opinion any doctor that places eight embryos into a woman should be stripped of his license.


    February 2, 2009 at 10:52 am |
  26. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    There should be prudent medical ethics regarding invitro fertilization. Sometimes medical science can produce rewarding results,while at the same time the rewarding results can become a trememdous strain and burden on those families.-and sometimes it is just good old "common sense" that should dictate.

    February 2, 2009 at 10:51 am |
  27. tori

    who is the father(s) of all of her children? or was sperm used from a sperm bank? As an infertility patient for 10 years, I am well aware of the screening and procedures required for treatment. From what we know, it does not sound like this woman was a valid candidate and I wonder why they were treating her?

    February 2, 2009 at 10:43 am |
  28. Annie Kate

    I would be uncomfortable with the government or the fertility experts setting a number for this or any other procedure. Explain the disadvantages and the dangers but in the end it should be left up to the patient.

    February 2, 2009 at 10:35 am |