Yet Another Opinion on the “Octuplets”Monday, February 9th, 2009
I have struggled with whether or not to actually give space to the whole topic of the octuplets but have decided that I just can’t help myself. It has been very interesting to see the collective social response that has occurred since we, as a society, first learned of their birth. We were awed and amazed as we saw the Kaiser physicians’ press conference. What a marvel! And then some facts started to trickle out. Grandma had some upsetting things to say about her daughter and within a week our awe turned to disbelief. An incredible miracle? Wonder of wonders? Hardly.
Being a perinatal nurse, a mother, who did not have an easy time either becoming or carrying pregnancies, and simply as a human being, this matter concerns me deeply on so many levels. I hardly know where to start. I’ll hold off on the entire ethical and moral debate for the moment but I will get back to it.
Yes, it certainly is miraculous that this mother was able to carry the babies until 30 weeks and I can only imagine the relief that the obstetricians and perinatologists caring for Nadya Suleman must have felt when she delivered. They are certainly not responsible for the pregnancy itself but I have to hope that some very serious discussions took place among them about the gravity of the situation.
I have to wonder whose best interests were at hand here. Was it the eight (oh sorry, seven, since the eighth was a surprise) “certain- to- be premature” infants or perhaps the mother herself for whom this entire pregnancy was life threatening? I don’t think so. Every physician who works with pregnant women has a moral obligation to strive to decrease the incidence and likelihood of infant prematurity. The devastating and far-reaching effects are innumerable. These physicians not only did not do that, they looked directly at the odds and said, “let’s go for it”… Hurray for them.
I can tell you that as those doctors’ ended their part of the story, the incredible work and resources of the Neonatologists and nurses who took over the care of these babies had only begun. Let’s just look at some facts here. Nadya Suleman was hospitalized prenatally from at least 23 weeks on (very possibly longer than that) at a cost of over $1000 per day. The cost of caring for each baby in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is a minimum of $2000 per day (that is $16,000/day – over 100,000/week) . They are likely to be in the hospital for at least 2 months, probably longer. I find it shocking that Kaiser Permanente would be so willing to incur these costs when their entire business model is on “prevention”.
This mother is not only incredibly immature but seriously emotionally disturbed and the ethical issues surrounding the willingness of any fertility specialist to have implanted her with ANY further embryos is contemptible. To respond that no one has a right to prevent a woman from “choosing” how many embryos she wishes to keep is weak and quite frankly deplorable. Her fertility specialist had a professional and principled responsibility to act ethically. The debate around medical regulation is very complex but this matter has certainly pushed it into the forefront, and sad as I am to say, rightly so.
Nadya Suleman lost her right to “just try for another girl” as soon as she tapped into the already seriously strained health care system. That little impulse has and will continue to involve hundreds of individuals and millions of dollars. We as a society are currently paying (literally and metaphorically) for this mother and all 14 of her children… and we will be for the rest of their lives. What a miracle. We should all be very angry. She very likely will get a considerable amount of money to “tell her story”. We should be ashamed of ourselves for watching it.