No doubt fingers are wagging and tongues are clicking all over the country as people absorb the new details. And it is certainly the case that there is a lot to unpack with this particular story. One aspect of it though is no doubt front and center on the minds of many: Why would any doctor offer this woman fertility treatment if she is unmarried and (probably more in the fore of many minds) already has six (gasp!) other children. Here is how Associated Press writer put it in an article from January 31st:
The news that the octuplets' mother already had six children sparked an ethical debate. Some medical experts were disturbed to hear that she was offered fertility treatment, and troubled by the possibility that she was implanted with so many embryos.That this woman was offered fertility treatment should be among the least surprising aspects of the story. Particularly in light of a California Supreme Court decision from August that ruled fertility doctors cannot refuse to provide their services to gays and lesbians on the basis of a religious impediment to doing so. The San Francisco Chronicle's website described the decision as this:
California doctors who have religious objections to gays and lesbians must nevertheless treat them the same as any other patient or find a colleague in the office who will do so, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday.Of course, given the timing of the birth just last week, this particular court ruling likely had no impact in the the decision of the fertility doctor in the case of the octuplets. As an indicator of attitudes toward reproduction, though, the court's decision couldn't be more clear. It announces with the certainty that reproduction decisions have been freed from the constraints of religion, tradition, and even biology. That these decisions are now just another civil right and, as such, have to be enforced by the courts. Once you cross over into this territory, there should be no surprise that all sorts of people receive fertility treatment, even those that you feel shouldn't. There is no middle ground with this decision. Once technology overcomes biological hurdles and the courts step in to remove religious/tradition based arguments from the discussion the resultant reproductive free-for-all is utterly predictable.
The justices rejected a San Diego County fertility clinic's attempt to use its physicians' religious beliefs as a justification for their refusal to provide artificial insemination for a lesbian couple. The ruling, based on a state law prohibiting businesses from discriminating against customers because of their sexual orientation, comes three months after the court struck down California's ban on same-sex marriage.
While there are many that feel fertility treatments should not be offered at all, or if they are, offered only to married heterosexual couples so that any resulting children would be raised in the context of traditional marriage. It is certainly the case that there are a large number of people who would see no problem with providing fertility treatment to gay and lesbian couples even as they find the decision to offer such treatment to a mother of six abhorrent. One need only look a little further to surmise that this attitude may have something to do with money. Here is how a report on ABCnews.com began:
Dr. Charles Sophy, medical director of Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, cautioned that giving birth to octuplets would put eight times as much stress on a single mother and pose a daunting task in terms of rearing.
"It costs money to raise children -- to raise these kids is probably going to cost about 2-and-a-half million dollars, just to give them basics," he said. "That is not baseball lessons or piano lessons. That is food, clothing or getting to school every day -- that is a lot of money."
I suspect that this is grossly overstated and find it insulting both as a father of six and as a former economics student. (Hasn't this guy ever heard of marginal cost? But I digress that is a post for another day.)
Ultimately, if we are going to remove all barriers to reproduction we should not be surprised if it results in a negative outcome, maybe the barriers were there for a reason (an argument that one can make by relying on biology alone, though there are other reasons as well). And if we endeavor to put a monetary value on a human life, we immediately cheapen it.
While some might read the story of the mother in this case and see in her apparent obsession with having children a psychological problem. It might even occur to them that this woman wants to have children to serve her own needs, not as a life-giving act. And they would be right. Children are not therapy, nor does their value (or cost) reside in the sum total of their economic consumption. Finally, children are not the public proof of triumph over anti-gay bigotry. They are human beings. Seeing them as anything less devalues them, and us.