June 17, 2007 -- It is a rare event in the United States, indeed in the world -- the birth of sextuplets. Out of more than 4 million births in the U.S. in 2005, just 85 deliveries involved five or more babies.
Making the occasion rarer recently was the birth of two sets of sextuplets just 10 hours apart.
On June 12, Ryan and Brianna Morrison of Minnesota became parents of four boys and two girls, born after just 22 weeks in their mother's womb.
And in Phoenix that same day, after just 30 weeks of pregnancy, Jenny Mashe gave birth to three boys and three girls.
The joy of the birth announcements, however, was tempered with news that three of the sextuplets born prematurely to the Morrisons died. Lincoln Sean Morrison died Friday, following the deaths of two of his brothers, Tryg and Bennet, on Wednesday.
The three surviving babies remain in critical condition in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. Hospital officials say no further information will be released. The babies' weighed between only 11 ounces and 1.3 pounds at birth.
An "extremely premature" infant -- 22 weeks or less-- has about a 1 percent to 10 percent chance of surviving according to the American Medical Association. At 25 weeks of gestation, the odds increase to between 50 percent and 80 percent.
If a fetus can remain in utero until 30 weeks, the odds of surviving increase dramatically -- to better than 90 percent.
"There's a small amount of room for hope that at least one of the babies might survive," University of Iowa pediatrics professor Dr. Edward F. Bell told the Minnesota Star Tribune. "There's a handful of 22-week old babies have survived, but it is a rare event."
Both sextuplets mothers consulted fertility doctors to become pregnant.
Brianna Morrison and her husband, both 24, reportedly spent more than a year trying to conceive and then began taking fertility drugs, in particular Follistim, which cases the ovary to produce an egg. In some women, the ovaries release many eggs at one time in an "over response" to the drug.
The life-threatening risks to mother and child, and the life-long problems that a multiple-birth child can face if they do survive, have some in the medical profession questioning the wisdom of "fertility on demand."
"This is a serious medical complication [multiple births from fertility drugs] and predictably leads to extreme prematurity," suggested Dr. Richard J. Paulson of the USC Keck School of Medicine.
"It's one of the worse things that could happen to you," said the infertility specialist.
Others question why a woman in her early 20s who had been trying to get pregnant for about a year did not have other options, like trying longer.
Jenny Mashe, 32 and her husband Bryan, 29, used artificial insemination to conceive and were shocked when an ultrasound revealed she was carrying six fetuses.
Both the Morrisons and the Mashes were approached by their doctors about the option of "selective reduction" -- the aborting of all but one to three of the fetuses.
The intention is to increase the likelihood the remaining unborn children will survive, thrive and be delivered full term.
Both families declined, chosing to leave the outcome "in God's hands." The Morrisons are committed Christians who met at Bethany College of Missions and married in 2005.
"So then the question arises -- given the risks to the mother and the babies -- should the professional norm be to tell people, 'We will have selective abortion,' during the pregnancy?" wondered renowned bioethicist Alexander Capron.
"For many people it is an unacceptable alternative." said the professor of law and medicine at the University of Southern California.
"They wanted to get rid of three? How can I do that," Jenny Mashe told azfamily.com, a Web site for KTVK-TV in Phoenix. "I have had a couple of miscarriages already. There's no guarantee that I am going to carry these."
She also was encouraged by the birth and survival of the celebrated McCaughey septuplets in Iowa 1997. At the time Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey also declined selective reduction, saying they would "put it in God's hands."
The babies were born nine weeks premature. Five of the children are in good health and 2 of the septuplets have cerebral palsy.
"Maybe if God wants to, He can reduce them on His own, but I know this is not something that we can do," said Jenny Mashe.
But USC's Capron said, "It is always an interesting situation when people rely on modern medicine and talk about God's will -- because if it were simply God's will, then you'd say, 'If you're not becoming pregnant, that must be God's will.'
"But people instead say, 'No, God's will is that I use medical interventions," he added. "I guess] that is a view of God's will."
Capron, who also co-chairs the Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics at USC, considers adoption a viable option for becoming a parent that many couples reject when deciding to start a family.
"If the idea is that you want to be a parent, there are a lot of children out there who need parents," the bioethicist said. "And the notion that you have to use artificial means to become biologically pregnant, and a parent in that way, is not very persuasive to me."
"If what you are saying is: 'I want to pass on my genes, which are very special to me and to the world, and the only way to do that is to reproduce biologically, rather than the act of parenting,' I sympathize with that," he said. "But I am not one who believes you should run great risks to do it."
But the author of "Law, Science and Medicine," was careful to point out he would never advocate legislating a person's parenting options.
Aswini Anburajan contributed to this report.