Thu, Feb 05, 2009 - Page 14 News List

Mother of controversy

Ethical debate rages over the fertility treatment of prolific breeder Nadya Suleman

By Andy Goldberg  /  DPA , LOS ANGELES

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W hat kind of woman with six children under the age of eight has eight frozen embryos implanted and gives birth to octuplets?

To her detractors, Nadya Suleman is a dangerously child-obsessed lunatic more in need of psychiatric help than fertility treatment. For these people, Suleman and the doctors who performed her in-vitro fertilization were guilty of a profound breach of ethics.

Making it worse, Suleman has the temerity to cash in on the babies whose birth last week was greeted almost as a miracle in a country reeling from a barrage of bad economic news and mass layoffs. Reality TV shows, books, lucrative interviews and even a proposed US$2 million chat show — all have reportedly been offered to America’s newest celebrity mother.

But on Tuesday, as the din of disapproval reached a crescendo, Suleman, 33, started to give her side of the story. Her newly hired publicist made an appearance on a popular morning talk show to extol Suleman’s natural virtues.

“My client is a wonderful woman, she’s smart, she’s bright, she’s well-educated, and she has a wonderful sense of humor,” crowed PR consultant Joann Killeen. “She’s looking forward to being the best mum she can possibly be to all her children. She looks at this as a blessed event.”

Killeen acknowledged that Suleman was fielding a barrage of offers.

“There are multiple envelopes and multiple proposals, and we will sit down with our client and decide what is the best way for her to tell her story,” Killeen said. “Everyone has a different idea of what she is going to do.”

Far from being a money-grubbing publicity hound, Suleman is a well-balanced individual who just loves kids, Killeen insisted.

“She’s going to look at all the opportunities and choices that she has to provide the best financial future for her children. She’s very excited about telling her story and setting the record straight about Nadya, her family and her life,” Killeen said.

That could be a hard job given what has already been leaked out to the press. Suleman’s mother told reporters a day after the birth that Nadya was “obsessed with children” and that she had ignored her mother’s plea to seek psychological help.

It remains unclear who the father is.

On the birth certificates of both sets of children, the father is listed as David Solomon, rather than Suleman’s divorced husband Marcos Gutierrez.

Suleman has little employment history, though she was working toward a masters degree in child development until the spring of last year.

There is great mystery about how she became impregnated. Doctors at Kaiser Permanente, where she gave birth, said they first saw Suleman when she was already 23 weeks pregnant.

Many fertility specialists maintained this weekend that impregnating a young woman with so many embryos was ethically wrong, because such a large multiple-foetus pregnancy poses huge dangers both to the mother and children.

“When we see something like this in the general fertility world, it gives us the heebie-jeebies,” said Michael Tucker, a clinical embryologist in Atlanta and leading researcher on infertility treatment.

Tucker added that in his opinion, “if a medical practitioner had anything to do with it, there’s some degree of inappropriate medical therapy there.”

For now, mother and kids are still in the hospital, which has been deluged with flowers, dozens of gift baskets full of eight items for the babies, and calls offering, support, advice or outrage.

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