Octuplets: The Tough Questions and Double Standards Multiply


From Prohibiting Medical Care to Forced Abortion, Secular Solutions Abound

A woman gave birth to a healthy set of octuplets this week and the world is abuzz with complicated questions of morality.   This news is all the more surprising considering the woman is a single mom, and had six other children before becoming pregnant with the octuplets.

There have been many questions raised about how she came to be pregnant with the 8 babies.  Her mother reported to the L.A. Times last Thursday that the babies were implanted through invitro fertilization.

“If she went to a fertility clinic, there’s wide consensus from every single ethicist and fertility specialist that this was irresponsible and unethical to implant that many embryos,” said M. Sara Rosenthal, bioethicist at the University of Kentucky’s College of Medicine. “This is an outrageous situation that should not happen.”

It is not surprising that widespread condemnation would be heaped upon this single mom of now 14 children.  There has also been a lot of negative press about how this doctor should not have helped her become pregnant (via invitro fertilization) because she was a single mom.

These are difficult questions to be sure, but I have a few questions.

How is it that these fertility specialists can be expected to judge one woman by her parenting situation and not another?  These same voices demanding doctors deny this woman access to fertility treatments also demand that doctors be forced to provide services to gay couples against personal ethics.  There have been several high profile lawsuits against doctors, demanding that we take morality out of the equation when providing services.

Who is to deny this woman access to medical treatments based on personal ethics?

Even more chilling, is the question that was raised about whether this mother should even be allowed to choose what happened to her babies once she was successfully implanted and pregnant:

(From CNN) The woman’s mother told the Los Angeles Times that doctors gave the woman the option of selectively reducing the number of embryos, and she refused.

George (bioethicist at Princeton University) said that, based on the information available, his personal ethical decision would probably support the woman’s choice to carry all the babies to term. But he said that selective reduction is not the same as traditional abortion because the goal is the healthiest possible birth rather than the termination of a pregnancy.

“The babies didn’t put themselves there; it’s not their fault,” George said. “There does seem to be a serious ethical question about killing one or more of them, even for the sake of maternal health.”

Rosenthal, on the other hand, questions the woman’s capacity to make a good decision under the circumstances. Some neonatologists believe that when pregnant women are told about dangers of prematurity or have great expectations about giving birth, their judgment can be impaired, she said.

The situation raises the issue of whether a doctor ought to override a patient’s wishes for the sake of saving lives, she said. Although the health care system in America gives patients autonomy in making decisions about their own bodies, when emotionally distraught, some people decide poorly, she said.

The very idea that perhaps the mother’s will should be overridden with regard to the life of her children is completely chilling, and to have CNN reporting on this option without comment as just another option in an array of options pushes my panic button.

How is it that this “ethicist” is even suggesting forced abortion as a solution?  Is this where the secular ethics advocates are leading us?

These ethical ideas are pervading through European countries, and now we see them here.  In Belgium, hundreds of ill children are euthanized every year WITHOUT their parents’ consent.

All actions we take in life follow a code of ethics.  Public policy is set by traditional codes of behavior.  Demanding personal ethics be set aside does not liberate the public from adhering to ethical behavior, it just replaces one set of ethical standards with another. Who then is going to decide for this woman and her children what ought to happen?  The government?  The people?  Perhaps we should take a poll?

From denying medical care to suggesting forced abortions, coldly secular solutions to these difficult questions abound.  Is this the world we want?

Replacing longstanding Judeo Christian ethics with secular ethics is not the job of the government, and these ethics should never be imposed on others, whether doctors or patients or just plain citizens.

—Beetle Blogger



  1. Jennifer Peters said,

    February 4, 2009 at 12:20 am

    I was very happy to find this website, however this posting makes me wonder. This woman seems to be in the wrong. I am not for abortion (however only implanting two is not abortion in my eyes) and I am concerned about the out come for the children. The woman is living with her parents and it seems that she isn’t mature enough to have the six she already had. Is it a good thing that she added 8 more to that? What does it say about her that she is trying to sell them or their story for 2 million dollars? (

  2. beetlebabee said,

    February 4, 2009 at 1:31 am

    I can’t defend the woman who chose this, but I can’t defend the secular solutions to it either. Beetle Bloggers archives are full of stories decrying euthanasia, abortion and intrusion into the sovereignty of parental rights. Part of protecting the rights of parents is allowing the risk of having parents choose poorly.

    This post brings up some of the ethical questions and solutions out there that we have to deal with. It’s not in defense of this particular woman, but it is defending the right she has to choose. You may vehemently disagree with the choice she made, but look at the alternatives before saying she ought not have that choice. These are the sorts of decisions that apply to all of us.

    If we take away her ability to choose, our ability to independently choose how to live is also eroded.

  3. Holly said,

    February 4, 2009 at 1:39 am

    I completely agree with you about the situation once the embryos were already implanted. That should absolutely be her choice.

    However, I think I’m with Jennifer on this one.

    First, I don’t have a problem with there being limits on how many embryos should be implanted in the first place. It’s most definitely far safer for mother and babies to implant fewer. From everything I’ve read it definitely sounds like it was irresponsible on the part of the doctors to implant that many.

    Second, I think this woman is just as irresponsible. She’s an unemployed single mother with 6 previous children living with her parents. She’s knowingly bringing all these children into the world without a father, and possibly unable to adequately provide for them. That is not right.

    And now there’s talk of her having hired two publicists, how she wants to be famous for motherhood or something. The whole thing makes me incredibly uncomfortable, and while I know I shouldn’t judge this woman when I don’t know her, I severely disapprove of her decisions.

  4. Holly said,

    February 4, 2009 at 1:44 am

    I posted before I read your comments. I want to add that while her parental rights should definitely be foremost in the case of the already-implanted embryos. However, I don’t think it would be infringing on her parental rights for doctors to refuse to implant more than a certain number of embryos (I leave it to the medical profession to decide what would be within acceptable levels of risk). I also think doctors should probably have the right to refuse to implant based on her financial situation and number of previous children and lack of a father. It’s one thing if she gets pregnant on her own, but if I’m a doctor, I don’t want to be forced to knowingly contribute to a situation that I feel will be harmful to the children (both in the number of embryos implanted and in her ability to care for them after).

    These are complicated questions to be sure, though.

  5. Holly said,

    February 4, 2009 at 1:45 am

    My second sentence is incomplete. Oops. It should probably be connected to the third sentence.

  6. surfergirl1982 said,

    February 4, 2009 at 2:11 am

    I believe that children are born for a reason. I have a friend who was almost robbed of his life because his mother had tried to abort him, and it failed. He grew up in different foster homes, until he was adopted. I had always figured that anyone would rather die than live the life he had in his early years, and asked him once how he felt about his life. He told me that he was so thankful that he had been spared. Life is so precious to him (maybe because he had been so close to losing it). He is one of the most amazing musicians I have ever met, and has three wonderful children. I can not imagine what life would be like without him! What a loss of a good person if his mother’s abortion had gone as planned. It seems like those children are going to have family that love them, and who knows who they are going to grow up to be! So many babies have been aborted because it was “inconvenient” for the mother or father to have a child. Who knows who those babies killed by abortion could have grown up to be! The child that had died strictly because his/her mother did not want to have a baby could have been a brilliant musician, an amazing doctor or the next president. I am proud of the mother for chosing not to selectively abort her children.

  7. beetlebabee said,

    February 4, 2009 at 2:30 am

    I also don’t disagree with the idea that there can and ought to be safe practice limitations, but I would like to point out that those who ask the doctors to judge this woman’s parenting ability based on her marital status and the number of children she has run against the idea currently being put forth by the secularists that doctors should NOT judge by marital status or by the ability of the parents to care for children.

    Wouldn’t it be better to allow freedom of conscience to the doctor rather than imposing secular morality on all doctors? I am a staunch advocate of allowing people choice, and freedom of conscience.

  8. { Lisa } said,

    February 4, 2009 at 2:47 am

    While I totally disagree with her getting pregnant with children on purpose with no husband around I would never make that choice for her. It should still be her choice, period.

    Surfergirl I agree that all these aborted babies could have grown up to be doctors or famous or whatever,but more importantly, they would have just grown up.

  9. Holly said,

    February 4, 2009 at 2:59 am

    “Wouldn’t it be better to allow freedom of conscience to the doctor rather than imposing secular morality on all doctors? I am a staunch advocate of allowing people choice, and freedom of conscience.”

    Absolutely. I don’t think we really disagree. I believe doctors should be allowed freedom of conscience whether we’re talking cases like this one, or cases where they’re being asked to perform the procedure on a lesbian (fathers not present in either case). Doctors should be free to refuse without fear of retribution or litigation. There are definitely contradictions on this issue in other circles, though. I think you and I are both being consistent.

    Also, Lisa, I agree it is her choice (at least in terms of having more children–the number of embryos is a different matter), but doctors should also be free to decline to perform the procedure.

  10. { Lisa } said,

    February 4, 2009 at 3:06 am

    Holly, yes I agree, the big word of the day here is FREE:)

  11. debbie said,

    February 4, 2009 at 3:32 am

    I am comforted to know that there is a place where ideas and comments can be shared. No name calling, just thoughtful reflection on an event we have all read and heard about. Thank you beetlebabee, this was a tough one for many I am sure. The question to be answered was not what kind of mom she is or will be, but how the outcome of all this will affect someone else’s freedom to choose.

  12. teeny said,

    February 4, 2009 at 7:23 am

    I’ve been on the fence about this one, but I mostly agree with Beetle. I believe that children deserve a mother AND a father, hence my position on proposition 8. However, the question of whether they’re allowed to continue living once they’re a living embryo is a non-issue for me. For me, the ethics questions should have taken place when she requested the fertilization treatments, not after they were done. Once she was pregnant, any further ethics decisions were HERS and only HERS.

    I don’t feel that a man and wife should be considered irresponsible for choosing to have a child when the checkbook doesn’t quite balance. Those are circumstances that are subject to change, depending on what life throws at people. Once you ban people who can’t quite make ends meet from having kids, the next step is to ban people who don’t have 5-10 years of savings in the bank from having kids. Then, only the ones that can afford to give their children the best of everything That’s a sure-fire way to stunt the growth of America. Lest we forget, many of the greatest names in history were people who were born into penniless families.

    We need to be very careful about drafting a set of criterion to judge whether people “qualify” to be parents. I think children deserve a mother and a father, but once she was implanted, well…there’s at least the possibility of a future father. And I doubt she’ll be struggling financially for long. Sure, she’s whoring for attention (so to speak) but if she gets the sponsers she wants, then she won’t be living off of your tax dollars, in fact she’ll be paying quite a bit of her own into the system. Point being…she’ll have managed to secure a way to pay for them.

    Meanwhile, I love how people are so eager to discuss the good and bad decisions of our fellow man. Have we, as a nation, always been such busybodies? Or is it just the media age that has encouraged this need to spew our opinions of our neighbors, as if we had a right to be involved?

  13. Mark said,

    February 4, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Teeny, you so nailed it. Busybodies! It’s such a dismissive word, but the idea that some bureaucrat could ever have the power to snuff life, or even potential life is just out of control.

    There was a story I read recently about the advances in euthanasia practices. It’s real. I can’t imagine it, but it’s real, and there are a lot of people that think it’s the way to go.

    I can’t understand it.

  14. Bethany said,

    February 4, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Wow, what happened to the Hippocratic oath? If you cannot help, at least “do no harm.” How could any doctor consider aborting those babies as in keeping with that oath?
    And it is ridiculous the double standard that is springing up. Studies show that homosexual couples just don’t raise kids as well as heterosexual couples, but doctors can’t refuse them treatment for fear of being sued for discrimination. Yet it’s irresponsible to not refuse that same treatment to someone else who probably won’t be the best parent? You just know that if this had been a lesbian couple who had octuplets it would be spread all over the news as a wonderful, happy thing. And any doctor who suggested aborting any of those babies would probably get sued.

  15. beetlebabee said,

    February 4, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    Bethany, I think you’re right, there is definitely a double standard here. The thing that strikes me is that the Christian values in these areas are automatically demonized, while the Secular values are promoted. It is the very antithesis of “separation” between church and state for the government to be pushing secular morality.

  16. beetlebabee said,

    February 4, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Mark, the euthanasia practices overseas have gotten completely out of control. They can euthanize children even without their parents’ consent and it’s common.


    To have that kind of rhetoric creeping in here in the states just makes me ballistic. There is no way the government should ever play God with the lives of children, ESPECIALLY against the will of the parents.

  17. Jennifer Peters said,

    February 4, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    I am noticing that all of these comments are really about her “choice.” But really she didn’t GET pregnant she had her pregnancy created and the question becomes WHY?
    I think she has the right, however cases like these are why people think that abortion is the answer. Who is paying for those babies? The people of California are. So American citizens are forced to pay for a baby that is not their own because the mother was irresponsible. I think she has a choice, but I don’t think myself, or anyone else should have to pay for that choice! There should be laws against it. That is the only way to protect against something like this. The “standard” of practice in the US is 2 embryos (for the health of the mother and the unborn children) why did she choose to get more? And I do not think that she should have that choice, it is borderline child abuse in my opinion.

  18. Joshua said,

    February 5, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    I’m a keen advocate choice in reproductive matters, but I find it hard to believe that anyone of sound mind would indeed wish to have eight children in addition to the six (all under the age of 7) she already had, especially given her lack of a partner to support her and a lack of a sufficient income to guarantee a high standard of living.

    Further, given that she’d already had all her children by IVF, and had twins before, doctors should have known that her reproductive system was heavily stimulated by fertility drugs and that she had a propensity for multiple births. A good doctor would have followed the guidelines in place, and refused to implant more than two embryos.

    Nonetheless, although I disagree with her decision and the decision of her doctor to assist her, I defend their right to make such a decision.

  19. Chairm said,

    February 11, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    Joshua, on what principled basis would you “defend their right to make such a decision”?

    I’m curious and not presuming there is no such basis.

  20. Joshua said,

    February 12, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Joshua, on what principled basis would you “defend their right to make such a decision”?

    I suppose it is all based in a right for autonomy – that liberty is a fundamental right.

    This extends into procreative liberty. One should be able to choose when to have children, how often to have children, how many children to have, and indeed what sort of children to have. As I see it, none of these decisions can ever negatively impact the children’s rights (excepting if the children would have such a terrible existence that they would be better off not living).

    So, I think that having children in a bad situation is defensible. It’s the same principle I can use to defend a person with a known congenital disease choosing to have children despite a risk of them having the disease.

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