Ethical debate erupts over fertility treatment after revelation Californian woman already has six childrenStaff and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 31 January 2009 11.55 GMT
The woman who gave birth to octuplets this week after already having six children decided to have more fertility treatment in the hope of getting "one more girl", it was reported today.
The revelation that the woman from southern California, who on Monday became only the second person in US history to give birth to eight babies at once, already had six children, including twins, has led to an ethical debate over whether she should have been given fertility treatment.
But her mother, Angela Suleman, told the Los Angeles Times she only had the treatment because she wanted one more girl.
"And look what happened. Octuplets. Dear God," Suleman told the newspaper. She said her daughter "is not evil, but she is obsessed with children. She loves children, she is very good with children, but obviously she overdid herself."
The woman, who has not been officially identified, received fertility treatment and was given the option of reducing the number of embryos but declined, her mother added.
When the embryos were implanted last year "they all happened to take", Suleman said. "What do you suggest she should have done? She refused to have them killed. That is a very painful thing."
According to the newspaper Suleman said all the children were from the same sperm donor, but she did not identify him. Her daughter is divorced, but Suleman said the ex-husband was not the father.
The news that the woman would be faced with raising a family of 14 children came as medical experts continued to question the judgment of the team behind the delivery. Fertility specialists said that multiple births can endanger the mother and cause long-term health and developmental problems for the children.
"I think when the press goes googoo and gaga over these multiples, they don't seem to understand that it's really risky for the mothers and for their foetuses," Arthur Caplan of the department of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania told MSNBC.
But the doctors leading the 46-strong medical team at the hospital in Whittier, near Los Angeles, defended their actions. "Our goal is to provide the best possible care, no matter what the situation or circumstances are," Dr Harold Henry said. "What I do is just explain the facts. I always talk about the risks. The mother weighs those options, and she chooses the option based on spiritual or personal makeup."
The woman went to the hospital when she was 12-weeks pregnant. Under US medical guidelines doctors would not normally implant more than two embryos at a time in a woman under the age of 35.
The babies were delivered over five minutes on Monday morning, with the eighth baby a surprise for the mother and the medical team. All eight babies were understood to be breathing unaided, and were expected to stay in hospital for at least two months.
Medical experts warn that the babies, which were born nine weeks premature, may face complications ahead. Premature babies are more at risk from strokes and lung and intestinal problems. In the only other recorded case of eight live births in the US, in Houston in 1998, one of the babies died a week after it was born.
The parents of the 33-year-old mother answered reporters' questions outside their home in a quiet cul-de-sac. The babies' grandfather said that the other six children were excited to have eight new siblings. The mother is understood to live with her parents and her six children, aged seven, six, five, three, and the twins.
A statement released by the mother was read by one of her doctors at a press conference on Thursday. "We understand that you are all curious about the arrival of the octuplets, and we appreciate your respect for our family's privacy," the statement said. "Please know in our own time, we will share additional details about this miraculous experience ... we thank you for your positive support, prayers and generosity."
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