Did birth of octuplets violate ethics?

January 30, 2009 5:51:08 PM PST
There are new questions about exactly how a California mother became pregnant with eight babies and if it's the right thing to do. We asked a well known Houston infertility specialist what he thought. He says he does not judge the mother for wanting more children, but he supports medical guidelines that have been set for in-vitro fertilization and the guidelines say no more than two embryos should be implanted in a woman under age 35.

"Typically with octuplets, they all miscarry well before they're viable and you lose them all," said Dr. Timothy Hickman, the medical director for Houston IVF.

Dr. Hickman routinely does fertility treatments with in-vitro fertilization. He doesn't believe reports that the octuplets were conceived by a doctor using IVF.

"It's very likely and we hope it's the case that it's the product of fertility drugs and not IVF," he said. "In order for IVF to cause octuplets, a doctor would have to place eight or more embryos back, which is way beyond the guidelines."

And many agree with Hickman to put eight embryos back would be medically unethical. Simply put, having multiples is a huge risk.

"You can have all sorts of problems with the brain forming properly. You can be left with cerebral palsy, injuries, blindness, problems with the lungs working," he said.

On Friday, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine weighed in on the California births. It said, "...the occurrence of high order multiple births is not a desirable outcome" and "...eight embryos in an IVF cycle is well beyond our guidelines" and finally, "...we have a process for looking into these kind of matters and taking appropriate action."

"If someone was taking fertility medications, they should be monitored closely by their infertility doctor and if they get to the point of too many eggs develop, you just cancel the cycle and walk away," said Dr. Hickman.

Hickman says he tries to limit multiple births to no more than twins.

"It's a miracle those have survived," he told us.

More than half of quadruplets are born, not through IVF, but with medicine to induce ovulation.

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