Sun, Feb 08, 2009 - Page 7 News List

FEATURE : Ethical debate erupts over recent fertility treatments


A single mother of six has octuplets in California. A 60-year-old Canadian gives birth to twins after going to India to have two embryos from another woman implanted in her womb.

While fertility treatments has been a life-changing blessing for millions of people, the “miracle births” of recent weeks are fuelling long-standing debates about the ethical and practical challenges it poses.

On Friday, the California Medical Board said it had launched an investigation into how Nadya Suleman, 33, managed to be implanted with at least six embryos, because such high-order multiple pregnancies pose great dangers to both the mother and children.

The board will investigate whether there were any violations of medical standards by the so far unnamed fertility doctor who helped Suleman become pregnant with the octuplets born last month. Fertility experts have widely criticized the implantation on grounds of medical ethics, because it poses unnecessary dangers to the mother and babies.

Suleman’s miracle delivery came just two days before another extreme case of the boundaries of fertility ethics.

Ranjit Hayer gave birth to twins after four decades of trying to conceive with her husband. After she was refused treatment last year in Canada because of her age, she flew to India for donor eggs.

Canada’s health care system stops fertility treatments at age 50, citing the increased health risks for mothers, up to and including death.

“Medically, it’s very risky for both the mother and the babies,” fertility expert Cal Greene told Toronto’s Globe and Mail. “We don’t consider it in the best interests of the child.”

Beyond medical ethics, both cases have exposed sharp social issues, too.

A chorus of critics have asked whether it is right to let one woman have 14 children, all by test-tube conception. Does it matter that she is unmarried, lives with her parents on disability income and has been described by her own mother as psychologically unstable?

In Hayer’s case, is it right to pay Indian women a relative pittance for their eggs, and should the public-health system have to pay for the added costs of treating a 60-year-old mother?

Suleman claimed that she was being unfairly judged simply because she was a single mother.

“I feel I’m under the microscope because I chose this unconventional life,” said Suleman, who claimed she only did what couples struggling to have children do all the time.

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