Little remains known about the parents of the California octuplets, as their mother has asked the hospital to keep her identity private. But University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan said the costs of medical care for multiple-birth babies can put economic pressure on families.
Caplan believes there are ethical concerns surrounding the decision to move forward with multiple-fetus pregnancies. Though the means by which eight fetuses were obtained in this case remain unclear, he said there is little excuse for the outcome.
"Anyone who transfers eight embryos should be arrested for malpractice," Caplan said. "If they superovulated someone and they detected many eggs available and they didn't warn them about having sex, that would be a problem too."
Studies have shown that the tendency toward prematurity and low birth weight in multiple-birth babies puts them at greater risk for a variety of complications, including respiratory problems at birth, cerebral palsy, birth defects, sensory disorders and even death. These risks increase as the number of babies in the multiple birth increases.
Dr. Richard Paulson, chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, agreed that multiple births are a problem that should be avoided at all costs.
"Even though this story has a positive spin, it should be seen as a very serious complication of fertility treatment," Paulson said. "Patients who conceive octuplets would routinely be offered -- even advised -- selective reduction. I have to assume that in this case, the patients decided to try and carry to viability, and they were lucky, plus they got some really good doctors."
When the infants leave the hospital, the bills will keep piling up.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new Cost of Raising a Child Calculator -- a new tool the department has developed to help parents prepare for expenses and life insurance -- a middle-class family living in the western United States can expect to spend at least $9,171 on year's worth of housing, food, transportation, clothing, health, education and other expenses for a single child under the age of 1.
For eight children under the age of 1, that number mushrooms to $73,368.
Projected costs keep climbing as the children get older, according to the USDA calculator. By the time the children are 17, their parents can expect to spend at least $10,133 on each child annually, or $81,064 total for the year.
Overall, from birth through high school, the family will spend a projected $171,926 per child, for a total of $1,375,408.
"The kids are going to grow up in an environment where being frugal is part of life," said Kathy Peel, the author of "The Busy Mom's Guide to a Happy, Organized Home."
Peel, a mother of three from Houston, said she believes the projections devised through the USDA calculator are low.
She said she doubted, for instance, that a family would spend $308 per year on an infant's clothing, as estimated by the USDA. Disposable diapers alone, she said, could cost about $72 a month for a single child. For eight babies, that would total nearly $7,000 a year.