The Octomom

by Blair Sullivan | 2/19/09 1:52am

"Octomom" Nadya Suleman of California has become a media sensation since she gave birth to octuplets on January 26th. On that day, Suleman, who already had six children under the age of seven, became the proud mother of fourteen.

Several additional elements of this story have sparked a great deal of criticism and controversy. First, there is the means by which Suleman bore her children. Each of her pregnancies was the result of in-vitro fertilization, a process by which eggs are fertilized outside of the womb, and then transferred into the patient's uterus. Suleman said she had six embryos implanted for each of her pregnancies. According to a number of medical ethicists, this number of embryos is quite high, as the national average is between two and three embryos for a woman of Suleman's age. As the number of embryos increases, so too does the chance of multiple births, as well as the health risks to the mother and the children. Suleman's fertility specialist, Dr. Michael Kamrava, is a controversial figure in his field, who is known for a number of questionable methods that he has tried in the past. His practices are currently under investigation by The American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

It seems that Kamrava has done a great disservice to the reputation of his field by performing this operation on Nadya Suleman. It is standard protocol for doctors performing life-altering surgeries to conduct not only physical, but psychological analysis of their prospective patients. I'm no psychologist, but based on her actions and statements, it seems apparent that Suleman is a disturbed and delusional woman who was in no condition to undergo such a procedure. This 33-year-old single mother is unemployed, has no source of income and is $50,000 in debt. Unable to provide for her children, Suleman depends on state welfare. Each month, she receives $490 worth of food stamps and approximately $600 in disability payments for three of her older children. Because her octuplets were born prematurely, they will have to spend an additional seven to 12 weeks at the hospital. The high cost of this extra care will fall to Medi-Cal, which is California's Medicaid program, and many California taxpayers -- some of whom are understandably outraged that they are being forced to foot the bill for Suleman's irresponsible decisions -- accuse her of unfairly taking advantage of the welfare system.

To me, there is a distinction between people who opt for an unusual lifestyle and are willing to pay for it themselves, and those who expect society to subsidize their aberrations.

One may argue that it is inhumane, and an infringement upon the basic pursuit of happiness, to restrict the number of children that a woman may have, whether or not she receives welfare payments. The majority of Americans would have a difficult time accepting a law similar to China's "one-child policy," which was implemented to curb population growth.

While I am not advocating a restriction on the number of children one may have, however, it might make sense to entertain a system in which the government stops paying for additional children at some point, or provides lower payments or other disincentives to discourage women from continuing to bear children that they cannot afford to care for. Clearly, something must be done. California's welfare system is already in an unstable state, as spending on health and human services has increased by $6.5 billion since 2003 -- a rate drastically exceeding inflation and population growth. While making up only 12 percent of the United States population, California is home to 29 percent of total welfare recipients.

What is great about our country is that it allows us to enjoy the freedom to make unique decisions and to live unconventional lifestyles. But, as citizens, we must keep in mind that if we do not act responsibly, the society that allows for such freedoms will cease to exist.