Yesterday, a woman gave birth to six boys and two girls in California.
The mother was initially told she was carrying seven babies ... so everyone was surprised when the eighth was delivered. "It is kind of insane to expect seven and get eight, but I can see how it would be pretty tough to be able to clearly distinguish that many sacs and fetuses on an ultrasound," says momlogic OB/GYN Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz. "Once someone said that there were seven, I am sure everyone just looked for seven."
Even though it hasn't been confirmed, most believe this pregnancy had to be a result of some kind of fertility treatments, including in-vitro feritilization. But is it ethical to implant EIGHT embryos in one person? Our OB/GYN says NO.
"My question is who in the heck put that many embryos in this lady, and why is it not against the law to set up a human to have a litter?" Dr. Gilberg-Lenz, who has delivered twins and triplets and assisted in two deliveries of quadruplets, asks. "It is so dangerous. It's fantastic that they all appear to be OK right now, but it's totally irresponsible in my opinion."
She says implanting more than three to four embryos is frowned upon generally, "Because how many babies are you going to get?" She explains, "There are all these risks for the mother -- hypertension, hemorrhage, maternal mortality. It's very high risk. And there are so many risks for the babies -- all those complications that go along with multiples, including infant mortality. It's crazy. And for what? I feel implanting so many embryos is mercenary. It's just bad medicine."
Dr. Richard Paulson, director of the fertility program at the University of Southern California, said the latest births likely resulted from the use of fertility drugs, and that the children could face serious health risks.
"It's a risky decision to try to have all eight babies," said Paulson, who had no role in the delivery. "I would not recommend it under any circumstances, but I respect a parent's decision."
Increases in the use of fertility drugs have caused a surge of multiple births in the last two decades, specialists say. Many aging and childless couples are demanding aggressive fertility therapies more likely to produce multiple births. About three million infants have been born worldwide using IVF or other reproductive technologies.
Britain, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and other European countries have banned putting more than three embryos in women undergoing IVF. Doctors who break the rules can lose their licenses, pay fines or face incarceration.
Although Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz feels strongly that the maximum number of embryos allowed to be implanted should be regulated, the U.S. has only voluntary guidelines. In 1999 the American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommended that no more than two embryos should be placed in women under 35 undergoing IVF who produce healthy embryos. Those women who produce poor embryos could get three. Older women could get more. The voluntary guidelines were further tightened in 2004. They now state that women under 35 with a good prognosis should consider only one embryo and that no more than two should be transferred in this age group except under extraordinary circumstances. The new guidelines also say women between 35 and 37 should get only two embryos if they have a good prognosis. If they don't, they should get three but no more.
But those guidelines are VOLUNTARY, and many doctors implant more embryos to increase a woman's chance of becoming pregnant.
Rifaat Salem, the director of Pacific Reproductive Center in California, told the Wall Street Journal he doesn't always follow the guidelines because he often treats patients who have failed IVF at other clinics. Patients are people, not statistics, he says, and he judges each case on its merits. He says he doesn't hesitate to place "10 or 12" embryos in some women, even if they are under 35, as long as he feels their embryos are of inferior quality and unlikely to yield a pregnancy. Dr. Salem says none of the patients in whom he has introduced 10 or 12 embryos have had more than one baby.
If more than one embryo "takes," many women undergo a fetal-reduction procedure. That's the medical procedure of eliminating some fetuses in a multiple pregnancy in order to give the others a better chance to survive. But many are morally opposed to this procedure, and will just have the babies anyway, no matter what the risk.
Do you think it's ethical to implant so many embryos into one woman, or should there be limits? Comment below.