At the Crossroads of Creation and Capitalism

Unless you've been under a rock - or perhaps digging out from under last week's onslaught of snow and ice - you've heard by now of the mother in California who gave birth to octuplets (eight, count 'em, eight) last week. The pregnancy, not surprisingly, was achieved via IVF with eight embryos implanted at once.

The surprise, one that has shaken the blogosphere and the mainstream media over the last forty-eight hours - is that the mother already has six children at home.

All six were also achieved by IVF.

One more disturbing detail emerged from this story on Saturday, the marital status of the mother. The thirty-three year old mother of *gulp* fourteen has never been married.

I'm Catholic and I'm very familiar with what the Church says about IVF. I have friends - married friends - who have used different IVF methods to achieve pregnancy once they realized it may be their only hope of having a biological child of their own.

I am happy for them; really I am. As a couple, Knute and I never dealt with infertility issues (we are firmly at the opposite end of that spectrum); I can only imagine the sense of loss that haunts couples facing infertility.

But I've also found myself uneasy while listening to the details of IVF, of embryo creation and storage. What, I wonder, will happen to those unused embryos? While some couples choose to do what I can only describe as both heroic and self-sacrificing - put their extra embryos up for adoption to couples for whom IVF has utterly failed - I know many couples pay considerable fees to safely store those waiting embryos year over year. The question of their final repose is pushed off into the distance.

What, I wonder, will become of them?

Some in the fertility industry would refer to them as cells or cellular material. It is not a false description, but it is not a full description, either.

In the fullest picture, they are little lives, created at will and with much intent, lives that are now trapped in a suspension of development.

They are stalled lives, not just cells.

And so this story of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the creation and births of fourteen lives brings me to two different places.

One, I can in a very real way understand the desire to bring forth all those lives to their fullest potential by this mother in California, or by any mother and father who, in looking at their children, is forever reminded of the remaining souls on ice who wait and wait. I cannot imagine the level of soul searching by parents in this situation.

What do you do if you're one such parent? Have twelve, fourteen, eighteen children in batches of three or four at a time? Endure IVF treatments again and again? Risk the mother's life and the lives of the babies? Face doctors who are pushing selective abortion as the safest route? Risk a difficult pregnancy with a high likelihood of babies born early who may suffer from serious delays or birth defects?

Or, assuming that all the embryos develop fully and are born healthy, how does one set of parents face the financial realities of raising an ultra-large family with multiple multiplies?

The questions are staggering; I have no answers.

The other very real place I find myself, one that coincides with the Catholic Church's position against IVF (that it violates the dignity of human life), is the bottom line.

The treatment of infertility is not a non-profit industry; the costs are staggering and the physicians involved in treating infertility are paid for what they do.

This, my friends, is the sticking point for me; creating life for profit. It's not nearly as bad as destroying life for profit as done by physicians who perform abortions, but it is disturbing nonetheless.


Because we humans don't do so well when it comes to greed. When money enters the equation, we humans often willfully forget to ask ourselves the deep questions of what is right and what is wrong. Instead, we shift the responsibility to the other party involved in our transaction. As one fertility specialist said in regards to this case (and I'm paraphrasing here), Who are we to decide what size family anyone should have?

This utter hands-off approach to the supreme responsibility of creating life in a test tube does not bode well with me; I think big families (no matter how they are achieved) are amazing and fantastic when the children in those families can be adequately cared for by loving parents. I can't help but wonder how long it might be before this mother in California may find it necessary to apply for public assistance. And I pray that all fourteen of those children get the love and attention they need and deserve.

But it's the mixture of business with creation, of physicians earning a tidy sum off the IVF process while taking no responsibility for what they have wrought and for those embryos, those lives, that become mere leftovers to the process, that bugs me most.

What, I wonder, will be next?

Without a firm line in the sand, an ethical boundary that is unshakable no matter how much money a patient is willing to spend, we will see more pushing of the IVF envelope by greedy physicians and desperate parents.

*These are my opinions; you are free to disagree but please do so politely.*

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