Octuplet Birth to Single Mom of Six Sparks Debate

Mother's fertility treatment called "almost medical malpractice."

Jan. 30, 2009 — -- While the now-famous California octuplets cry from time to time in their hospital beds, a host of medical and ethical experts are raising questions over the extraordinary births.

The octuplets' grandmother Angela Suleman told The Los Angeles Times that her daughter had a fertility treatment last year in which the eight embryos were implanted, touching off a firestorm over the extreme treatment and its implications both for the mother and the children

"Anyone who transfers eight embryos should be arrested for malpractice," University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan told ABC News.

"[Experts] would be astounded if a fertility specialist actually implanted eight eggs," ABC News medical contributor Dr. Tim Johnson said. "Current guidelines, which are guidelines, not law, would suggest between one and four. … A vast majority of experts would say that [implanting eight] is bad practice."

According to Suleman, when the woman learned that she was carrying multiple babies, she opted not to reduce the number of embryos even though she was already the mother of six children.

"What do you suggest she should have done? She refused to have them killed. That is a very painful thing," Suleman told the Times.

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.

On Monday, the unidentified woman gave birth to the eight babies in five minutes.

Fertility experts have been extremely critical of such high-risk births, which can threaten the life of the mother and lead to myriad health problems for the infants.

"We dodged a bullet here," said Dr. Anne Drapkin Lyerly, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University.

When the babies come home, they are expected to join their six other brothers and sisters as well as their grandparents in the family's three-bedroom home. According to neighbors, the mother is single and in her 30s.

An 87-year-old woman who lives next door was not at all pleased.

"With our economy they way it is, with California going to hell in a handbasket, why should I be excited about this?" she asked ABC News' Mike Von Fremd. "What is their future?"

Octuplets' Family 'Ecstatic'

But according to a statement by the octuplets' mother, joy overshadowed criticism.

"My family and I are ecstatic about all of their arrivals," the statement read.

"When the mom came in and she touches the babies, you can see the expression on the face, the expression on their body that they are very happy about it," Dr. Mandhir Gupta, a neonatalogist who was part of the 46-person delivery team, said during a news conference.

Von Fremd visited the home of the woman, who lives with her parents on a quiet cul-de-sac in the Los Angeles suburbs. With none of the typical joyful markings of a new arrival -- balloons, storks, flowers -- visible, the family and most immediate neighbors wanted nothing to do with the media.

"Do us a favor, give us our privacy and get out, shame on you, shame on you," a man from inside the house screamed at Von Fremd.

Outside the family's home, bikes and toddler toys were scattered across the front yard. It appears the family will live in a three-bedroom house bursting with babies when the octuplets are released from the hospital in an estimated two months.

The babies are under close medical watch and now, of the eight, only one requires assisted breathing. During a news conference Thursday, doctors from Kaiser Permanente Medical Center described the octuplets as "feisty."

But according to Johnson, they are "far from out of the woods."

"They still face great risks in terms of immediate medical problems, such as bleeding in the brain or breathing problems that will develop," he said. "And certainly, they face a long, higher risk for developmental problems. They are seemingly going to get excellent medical care, which is in their favor, but it will be a long time before we know what will happen."

Raising 14 Kids Costs More Than $2 Million

Dr. Charles Sophy, the medical director of Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, cautioned that giving birth to octuplets would put eight times as much stress on a single mother and pose a daunting task in terms of rearing.

"It costs money to raise children. To raise these kids is probably going to cost about $2.5 million, just to give them basics," he said. "That is not baseball lessons or piano lessons. That is food, clothing or getting to school every day -- that is a lot of money."

The Department of Children and Family Services would worry that, in a house of 14, there would be a lack of attention or that the children would be at higher risk of abuse or neglect.

Doctors at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center said they have already received several donations for the children.

Birth by the Numbers: 46 on Staff, 4 Delivery Rooms, 5 Minutes, 8 New Lives

The octuplets, who were born by Caesarean section and delivered by a 46-member team of doctors at Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Center in Bellflower, Calif., arrived nine weeks premature.

The hospital's delivery team, which was spread out in four delivery rooms, ran each baby from the mother into another room and then ran back for the next in a bizarre relay race that successfully brought eight new lives into the world.

The eighth baby surprised the hospital delivery team, which had been planning for a seven-baby delivery for weeks.

"It was a shock, especially finding the eighth baby," Dr. Karen Maples of California's Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Center said Tuesday. "My eyes were wide."

Maples said the team handled the surprise birth "without missing a beat."

The two girls and six boys ranged in weight from 1 pound, 8 ounces to 3 pounds, 4 ounces and totaled more than 24 pounds.

They are only the second octuplets born and the first in which all the babies survived for more than a few hours.

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