Ethics of fertility treatment examined

Fertility expert Dr. Peter Weiss says even if a woman already had six kids, it's not for doctors to judge.

"You have to see what the situation is. Is it a new relationship, a new marriage? Are there problems with the other six children that you are concerned with. So you have to take that into account," said Dr. Weiss.

Medical ethicists agree.

"The number of children somebody has is not a major consideration in decisions about fertility care," said Dr. Anne Drapkin, Duke University.

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine compiles codes of conduct -- for example establishing a cut off age for treatment. There are also guidelines when it comes to how many embryos should be transferred into a woman's uterus.

In the case of the octuplets, one report claims the mother had eight embryos transferred - which goes against conventional practice.

"So most physicians would not put in more than two or three pregnancies or try and get two or three eggs at a time," said Dr. Weiss.

All specialists agree, no doctor should ever try to transfer more than three embryos.

"With multiple births the risks are for very early, very premature babies, mental retardation, kidney damage, lung damage and poor growth," Dr. Weiss.

Another fertility scenario: a woman could take drugs to stimulate ovulation. But then, an ultrasound would determine if too many eggs had dropped in one cycle.

"Most physicians if they are of sound mind would probably tell the patient to back off and not try to get pregnant this month because the risks are way too great," said Dr. Weiss.

Many doctors feel government regulation would be tantamount to dictating how a person procreates and is invasive.

What doctors do agree on is: a healthy discussion about these fertility issues could help prevent risky high multiple pregnancies in the future.

"This must be seen as a very serious complication of fertility therapy. Fertility doctors are not trying to make octuplets. We are trying to avoid these high or multiple gestations," said Dr. Richard Paulson, director of the fertility program at the University of Southern California.

"If people think that this is the norm and this is the healthy way to go, they're wrong," said Dr. Weiss.

Both Dr. Paulson and Dr. Weiss say the fact all eight babies are doing well is an extremely "lucky" outcome and they both credit the skill and expertise of the Kaiser team.



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