The Octuplets

Those of you who have followed this blog for some time may be surprised at my lack of comment so far on the recent birth of octuplets to Ms. Suleman in California, a woman who already had six children and was dependent on the financial help of her mother and government food stamps. First of all, I wanted to hear more facts before commenting, which has also given me time to put aside my personal feelings on the issue and frame them in the context of the plan I proposed in Five Short Blasts for addressing overpopulation. For those not familiar, the plan leaves all people free to choose how many children they’d like to have, since any heavy-handed approach to population management that restricts that right could never receive the approval needed to become public policy. However many children any one family chooses is practically irrelevant, since the only thing that matters is the relatively small reduction in the overall birth rate needed to attain population stability. This goal would be achieved through economic incentives, like tax incentives, designed to influence the decision toward choosing slightly smaller families on average.
In spite of the extreme example of this situation, I still maintain that it’s critical for any of us who are concerned with overpopulation to continue to support the right of parents to choose to have however many children they wish, regardless of extreme and sensational cases like the birth of these octuplets. I don’t criticize Ms. Suleman for wanting to have more than six children, or even for taking the risk of ending up with twelve children (she had six embryos transferred, two of which divided to produce eight children). However, I do believe it’s irresponsible for anyone to choose to have more children than they can support, whether that’s one child or fourteen. And that’s clearly what Ms. Suleman has done.

Would my system of economic incentives have made any difference in this case? For someone like Ms. Suleman, perfectly happy to subsist at a minimum standard of living with the support of her mom and government, probably not. But it might have made a difference to the sperm donor. If the IVF (invitro fertilization) clinic was required to reveal to the government the fathers of all successful births for the purpose of taxation, it’s likely he would never have agreed to the fertilization of so many embryos. And if IVF clinics were required to ascertain the financial ability of parents to support all children delivered by this method, or otherwise be held liable for reimbursement of government expenses to support them (along with the father), no IVF clinic would ever have agreed to transplant even one more embryo into this woman, much less six, regardless of her wishes.

So, do I think that Ms. Suleman is just a bit off her rocker? Yes! Do I think she’s acted irresponsibly? Absolutely! But do I still support the right to choose to have this many children? You bet. But it’s high time that such a right be exercised within the framework of a national population management program designed to reduce the birth rate by providing economic incentives to choose smaller families.




2 Responses to The Octuplets

  1. mtnmike says:

    Good Morning Pete,

    I did a story some time ago on this same subject regarding a family who had some 14 children. At first, I was enraged by the gall of worsening the problem of population growth.

    As I thought it through, I realized that it makes no difference. Our government has purposely encouraged tens of millions of foreigners to join our little club; what’s eight more matter?

    Yet, this continuing soap opera of who is going to pay for the octuplets gets far more exposure than the millions pouring in annually.

    Perhaps we should both change our reporting format to that of a fictional soap opera. It works for Oprah.

    • Pete Murphy says:

      Saw another news story on this subject this morning and was encouraged to hear that the number of triplets delivered as the result of IVF has declined in recent years. Hopefully, this is an indication that parents and clinics alike are more eager to avoid multiple births. Sounds like the “doctor” that did this procedure is at the far end of the ethical spectrum.

      This is the first time I can recall one of these huge multiple births generating so much negative publicity – perhaps an indication that attitudes are changing.

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