The Issue Of Too Many Children
The recent news of the birth of octuplets in Houston has rekindled discussion of the ethical issues in medically- assisted pregnancies that can result in six, seven and now eight babies. These octuplets, and the birth just over a year ago of the McCaughey septuplets remind us of the power and the responsibility in being able to manipulate reproduction. These amazing technologies can help otherwise infertile women have children, but point out that there can also be too much of a good thing. Should we limit the maximum number of multiple births in a given pregnancy, and if so, how? What are parents' and physicians' responsibilities for making sure that these limits are respected?
The health risks to both pregnant women and babies increase exponentially with additional fetuses. Triplets pose greater risks to mother and children than do single births or twins, and these risks increase greatly with four, five and six fetuses, and so on.
The McCaughey septuplets are a story as much for the fact that they represent a medical miracle of survival as for the curiosity we all have in what it takes to feed, diaper and otherwise care for seven infants.
Unlike animals like dogs or cats that have litters, women aren't made to carry such numbers of offspring through the nine months of gestation it takes to go from fertilization to live birth. There just isn't enough room, nutrition, or oxygen to go around for so many fetuses, as the months of bed rest and the tenuous medical courses of the two most recent cases attest.
As the death of one of the Houston octuplets shows, even if all the babies are born alive, they have long odds to overcome. Because they are so underdeveloped, they face the same...