Tuesday, July 24, 2007

6 Fetuses is not God’s Choice

Human Interest stories on mothers giving birth to 4, 5, 6 or more babies glamorize medical malpractice as a modern miracle. Media images of tiny little babies born way too early are commonplace as we the public are fed tales of the love and sacrifice these parents make to bring these children into the world. All too often the message must shift from the wonder of birth to the pain and suffering these families experience when their babies are unable to survive outside the womb, or live to face a lifetime of mental and physical issues as a result of their early entrance into the world. While my heart goes out to anyone who experiences the pain of losing a child, I cannot help but question the doctors who push the limits of fertility treatments and the parents whose suffering is a direct result of their choice to move forward with such a risky pregnancy when there is so much that can be done to prevent this kind of tragedy.

The biggest issue I have with parents of high multiple births is the excuse we hear over and over on their decision to move forward with having so many babies. The term “God’s Will” is thrown around as the rationale not to selectively reduce the pregnancy, even when that decision would ultimately give the remaining fetuses a better shot at a normal and healthy life. Any person who finds themselves in the position of making this choice gave up on God’s will the moment they moved forward with fertility treatments. God’s will was not for these individuals to conceive that many babies, God’s will was apparently for them not to conceive at all and they went against that with seeking fertility treatments.

Parents choosing to move forward with these multiple births are often described as selfless in their decision. What is selfless about choosing something so risky that the lives of the babies are instantly at risk? As photos stream of these babies hooked to machines, fighting for their lives, there is little mention as to how much pain they are suffering with every movement and breath. If the babies are able to make it through their first year, when the media fanfare of their birth has subsided, they face a lifetime of medical and mental issues. The “selfless” decision to move forward with a high risk multiple birth is nothing but a selfish act by the parents who cannot make a difficult decision for the good of the babies, a decision to give the children a chance at a healthy life.

With all the human interest around these multiple births, there is a noticeable lack of discussion and debate on the ethics and legality of the matter. Some states have made it a crime to drink during pregnancy, equating fetal alcohol syndrome to fetal abuse. Women who make the decision to smoke or have a drink while pregnant are openly ostracized in public as harming their unborn child. There are hundreds of programs aimed at providing everyone prenatal care to reduce the number of complications and give all children the very best start in life. Noticeably lacking are discussions and debate on the ethics and legality of willingly putting babies in jeopardy by choosing to carry a large number of fetuses.

Our “family focused” culture pushes people to pursue all means possible to conceive, forcing many into choosing fertility treatments without encouraging or accepting other available paths. Our society demeans and discriminates against the childfree, making the decision to pursue a life without parenting challenging beyond even just the sadness of being unable to have children. A variety of factors discourage people from becoming parents through adoption rather then medicine. The bureaucracy and expense make adoption for some impossible. Adoption is not considered or pursued by many due to cultural or religious stigmas that still exist. However, there are many who go forward with dangerous fertility procedures and treatments because they are unwilling to raise a child who is not of their own blood. I fully question whether those who belong to this camp should be raising children at all.

This week, the babies known as the Morrison 6 of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, lost another sibling. Born after only 22 weeks of gestation, only one child remains with the other 5 succumbing to the hardships of being born 4 ½ months premature. While this is a tragedy for the poor children who suffered in pain, and the last child who fighting for his life without his wombmates, I have trouble feeling for any couple who purposely puts the lives of their babies at risk by making the decision to have 6 children. Like many who make the decision to move ahead with the risk, the Morrison’s website explains their decision with the following reason; “We understand that the risk is high, but we also understand that these little ones are much more than six fetuses. Each one of them is a miracle given to us by God.” The 6 “little miracles” were unfortunate victims of a medical mistake, not God. God would never give a woman more fetuses then she could carry, as he did not mean for us to birth litters.


husband said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly on this. Especially the argument of "God's Will" being tossed around. However, I will concede that you can argue a difference in using medical advances to get pregnant vs. what amounts to "aborting" some of the fetuses. But I completely agreee on the selfish thing. Quality doctors should a) prepare patients for hard choices, and b) prevent so many pregnancies from happening through judicious use of techniques.

Anonymous said...

It's hard for me to summarize my thoughts on this subject probably because there really is no easy answer that allows one to follow a perfectly consistent ethical path. I do agree with Wade that doctors need to be frank with their patients about the unexpected results that can occur (not to say that their doctor didn't necessarily do that); if anything is an imperfect science, it would definitely be the effort to improve one's fertility. On top of that, I feel like we only hear about successful multiple births in the media, perhaps leading to the mistaken perception that medical science is at a point where it can facilitate this situation routinely with a good outcome.

At any rate, I feel for the parents. Regardless of the circumstances, losing five children is undoubtedly heartbreaking.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Amanda, I love your observation on the media only showing the successful births. Upon further investigation, it is apparent that it takes diving further into the paper to find the bad news on what happens to the babies after the glorious births... and most people never make it past the front page headlines.

As a researcher and scientist (may I call you a scientist?) you would appreciate some of the complexities involved with researching the long term risks and benefits associated with children born from fertility treatments. Even when only comparing single birth to single birth, you cannot truly formulate an apples to apples long term comparison as there could be issues derived from the parents not being able to get pregnant naturally (and let me say parents to remind people that fertility is not just a woman's issue).

Steve said...

I have more than passing familiarty with this topic, which by the way, I think this posting was one of your most profound.

My first job as a Nurse was working in the Chronic Care Program at Childrens-Minneapolis. I worked with kids who "graduated" from the NICU. Most of these kids were born at 23-24 weeks. The grand majority of them had multiple issues:Trached, vented, with G-tubes, most of them unable to eat by mouth, most had marked developmental delays...to put it mildly, they had issues.

I had a parent say something really profound to me about her child with so many issues: "I was just worried about my baby living or dying in the beginning...I did not realize that there was a third option". The point being that these parents were in a very long limbo. The parents ususally split up. They usually had major financial issues related to having these kids because it is tough to hold a job as single parent and your kid gets sick ,or the homecare nurse calls in sick. Most of these kids end up on public assistance, because even if the parents had insurance, they burn through it in a hurry with a preemie child with multiple issues. In the case of these families with multiple births, factor those already formidable costs by 4, 5 or 6.
I agree with 'Chelle when she notes that it is disinginous for Parents to bring up "God' when they did not exactly let nature take it's course when they went on fertility treatments. It is a major ethical issues for insurance companies and the health care system.