As the news breaks today that the firm representing this woman, Nadya Suleman, the one in the news recently for giving birth to octuplets, is abandoning her as a client on account of the death threats both the client and the firm are recieving, I thought it a good time to write a little bit about this incendiary issue. Truth be told, I'm a little surprised its become incendiary as it has because normally people distance from saying anything remotely bad when it comes to babies. Then again, this story has so many angles it really shouldn't be surprising. In short, the story goes like this:
Single and unemployed mother of six children decides that she wants to have more children. She had used IVF to conceive of children in the past and decides to use it again (still can't figure out how an unemployed single mother of six can afford that, but I digress). In the past they'd implanted six embryos and the result was one child, this time the doctor implants eight embryos. Except this time all eight embryos turn into baby humans, and voila-9mos later this woman is now the proud parent of 14 children, still unemployed, and thus the cost of raising these children will be the responsibility of the State of California in addition to whatever money she can get from private or religious institutions. So this story is basically the perfect storm of controversy. And I thought it might be fun to go down each one of those avenues of controversy.
First and foremost, you have the IVF debate. Once an expensive and rarely used tool to help parents unable to conceive naturally to have children, it has since become fairly commonplace and well accepted by society. The problem though, is that it's fairly un-predictable and doctors continue to push the envelope by using "controversial methods" which increase the success rate, except that they sometimes increase the success rate into twins or, in this case, octuplets. Then you've got the unused embryos which are eventually destroyed (much to the chagrin of the anti-abortion folks). IVF is the poster-boy for how far are we, as a society, comfortable with science going, and with the debate of just because we can do something, does that mean we should? Adding another layer to that debate, in this case, is that this women would never be approved to adopt a child, but it's somehow perfectly acceptable for her to go see a doctor and have more children artificially implanted in her.
Then you've got the people upset because these children are now financially the responsibility of the State of California. The fact that this woman, who already has the state on the hook for six children, can then go out and have more not naturally-but artificially-and as soon as they leave the womb she now gets a bigger check from the state every month to feed, clothe, and house them and the state is also saddled with eight more children is has to educate (albeit poorly, most likely) from ages 6 to 18.
And finally, you've got the practical question of how does a single mother create a nurturing and loving environment in which to actually raise 14 children and give them any chance in hell?
Its a really tricky subject, one that not only stokes the flames of people's opinions on issues that are important to them, but also because is there any reasonable action that can be taken to prevent this in the future?
I've always found it odd that in this country where you need 16 permits to sell alcohol, a permit to drive a car, a permit to work on your house-basically a permit to do practically anything, there is absolutely no restrictions on having a child, or six, or sixteen. Of all the supposed freedoms and "unalienable rights" that American government is supposed to grant us, its odd to me that procreation is the lone one that remains unmolested. I mean it makes sense, no one likes the idea of the government telling what you can do with your body (i mean, except anti-abortion people), or telling you that you can't have children when your creator endowed you with the abiity to do so (except for in the cases that you can't, hence IVF). There would be riots in the streets if the government actually tried to restrict procreation, and as such, despite the sheer impracticality of allowing people to procreate at will, we continue to do so.
And not only do we allow it, the government actually subsidizes it. If you're poor (enough), the government will actually mail you a check, and that check gets bigger for every child you have. And while it's a tired cliche often employed by conservatives that this country is just packed with people exploiting the system and popping out babies to pay for their crack habit (there's no doubt its happening, but not nearly as systemically as the Limbaugh's of the world would like you to believe), the fact of the matter is the potential for doing so is there-and that time and time again the American people will side with the State because, after all, it's not these kids fault that their parent(s) is batshit insane/a piece of shit/an addict and thus its not "fair" to blame the kids for their parent(s) irresponsibility in bringing them into this world despite having no means by which to support themselves, let alone their children.
It's really a thorny issue. No one likes the spectre of the State regulating procreation (a la China), but at the same time it's really hard not to be appalled when something like this happens. No one wants to see these innocent children suffer on account of their parents, but how do you balance that with a system that encourages deadbeats to procreate so they can suck at the government teet? And I'm really not sure there is an answer besides what we do now, but I'll be damned if it isn't a really shitty answer.