In-Vitro Fertilization and Nadya Suleman

By now you’ve heard more than you wanted to hear, probably, about Nadya Suleman, the California mother of six who recently gave birth to octuplets. Her story has dominated talk radio and cable news.

The problem is that nearly all of that talk centers on what she did and the cost to the public, not how she did what she was able to do.

Last year, Suleman, whose previous six children had been conceived through in-vitro fertilization, was implanted with the embryos remaining from those previous procedures.

Earlier this month, with the help of forty-six medical personnel, Suleman gave birth to six boys and two girls.

No sooner had the news about the births broken than the issue became who is going to support Suleman’s 14 children. As commentators noted, at the time of the births, Suleman was receiving public assistance. One Internet petition cited her story in its call for an end of aid to “unfit welfare recipients.” Suleman has even received death threats.

Still, the outrage –this utilitarian view of life– is missing the bigger picture: first, there are 14 children who, irrespective of their mother’s actions, need our help. The value of their lives is never measured in dollars and cents.

Then there’s the procedure that made this story possible: in-vitro fertilization. It’s increasingly difficult for me to escape the conclusion that the very process itself represents a rejection of the natural order and the God who instituted that order.

Even those who resist the idea that there is a God-ordained way to be “fruitful and multiply,” cannot deny the problems associated with IVF. The procedure routinely creates so-called “surplus” embryos that are either placed in a frozen limbo or are simply destroyed. And IVF and other fertility treatments vastly increase the chances of high-risk multiple births—which often presents the moral problem of “selective reduction.”

So why are more and more people turning to fertility treatments, especially in-vitro fertilization? Because more and more American women are either postponing childbirth until it’s too late, or like Nadya Suleman, simply foregoing marriage.

Instead of children and family being the priority we order our lives around, they have become an “experience” that must accommodate themselves to our expectations.

This “narcissistic” sense of “entitlement,” as LA Times columnist Tim Rutten called it, is what makes fertility medicine so “lucrative.” By the time we are ready for the “experience” of children, we often need technological assistance. Or, if we want children even if we don’t want a partner to help raise them, then by golly, nothing should stand in our way.

Either way, it’s a tragedy beyond calculation that our culture is losing the Christian understanding that children ought to be the natural result of the self-giving love between a husband and wife to be raised in the context of family.

Instead, children are becoming commodities to be created by any means.

But, as the Suleman story reminds us, when you try to circumvent the natural order, unexpected consequences are the rule, not the exception.

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  • Claire

    Very good points. Entitlement is at the heart of all of this. I personally know the heartache of infertility, but there is no justification for playing God and creating “surplus” embryos. Sometimes we have to accept that it’s not always about what we want at a given moment.