Spring 2009: Of Note
Ethics: Eight is Enough?
By Mary J. Loftus
How many babies are too many?
This question took on new life when, after the birth of the world’s longest-surviving octuplets in California, details began to emerge about the case: that Nadya Suleman would be a single mother, that she already had six children, including several that have special needs, and that the babies were conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Kathy Kinlaw 79C 85T, associate director of Emory’s Center for Ethics, was asked to lend her ethical insights to the debate, both nationally in a CNN interview and on an Emory panel as part of a series examining “Motherhood at the Intersection of Race and Class.”
The case, she says, raises very basic issues about whether one has a “right” to have children, as well as what the obligations to those children would be.
“We have learned a lot about in vitro fertilization over the years, and there are very clear limits on what is accepted practice,” Kinlaw said on CNN. “Given success rates in IVF and Ms. Suleman’s prior IVF pregnancies, current standards would call for no more than two embryos to be transferred.”
Just as there are no legal limits applied to the size of natural families, Kinlaw believes we as a society should be wary of making regulations concerning the numbers of children born through IVF. But, she said on the panel, “I think there is a clear responsibility to protect the welfare of . . . a potential child. So, how you weigh those interests against the interests of a particular woman who wishes to have children is something we need to think carefully about.”
Economics come into play as well: IVF is costly (averaging $12,400 per cycle) as is providing care for premature infants. Most fertility clinics, including the Emory Reproductive Center, offer counseling to women or couples wishing to have IVF, so they can understand the risks both to the babies and the mother, Kinlaw said.