"Octo-mom" raises multiple ethical questions and considerations
Published: Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Updated: Friday, July 15, 2011 11:07
Nadya Suleman walks out of her hospital room with the hope that in a few weeks, she can bring her eight new bundles of joy home with her; turning her family of seven into a family of 15. When those babies come home, Suleman will be raising 14 children on her own as a single mother with no job. The situation seems a bit out of the ordinary and unnatural to some, especially because all fourteen babies were born using in vitro fertilization.Suleman is not the first to capture media attention for her seemingly large family. A phenomenon seems to have occurred within the past couple years where stories about over sized families are sweeping the public eye and media by storm. "John and Kate Plus Eight" came onto network television back in 2007 and have gained a large fan base and favorable ratings ever since. Since then, shows like "18 and Counting" and "Table for Twelve" have emerged on the Discovery Channel's TLC. The popularity of these shows, in contrast to Sulemans' demonized publicity, should make us stop and question why we judge her so strongly. There may be a lot more to question in this story than the morality in Suleman's actions.
First, we should pay attention to the fact that Suleman is the first multi birth mother who received serious negative attention from the media. For example, in 1997 the McCaughey family in Iowa gave birth to Septuplets and were treated like celebrities. They were offered scholarship money, a lifetime supply of diapers and were showered in gifts from around the nation. People looked at the story as a great medical and personal triumph for the McCaughey family. The tabloids were very positive towards them; much different than Suleman's media attention. So what makes their stories so different? The McCaughey family had seven children, and Suleman gave birth to eight; the difference of one baby surely cannot make cause this drastic difference in people's response. We must ask ourselves if the media attention would be different if Suleman was married to the father of these babies. Would her story go from a tragedy to a triumph if she wore a ring on her finger? Why do we judge her for raising these children on her own? If she became a single mother because her husband left her, the public would come together in support; why do we criminalize her for being a single mother on her own terms? How about if she had more money in her bank account? It appears that people are judging her very conservatively; based on their own pre-conceived conventional standards, while deciding who is allowed to have large families and who is not.
Another question that arises in the "Octo-Mom" story is whether or not she is the perfect example of science technology crossing the line. In other words, has science gone too far? Professor Daniel Maher of the Philosophy department has taught courses at Assumption on similar issues in bio ethics. Maher did not give his own opinion on the issue, but instead raised some points that he believed were important for critics to ponder. He reminds people who originally jump to criticize the science community that Suleman sought out these doctors to serve fulfill a desire of hers; modern medicine as a whole works to serve a patient's autonomy like this. "We say that science in this case serves her autonomy with out passing judgment on her choices," said Maher. "It would be a problem if science decided to try and do that."
Maher raises an interesting point. What would happen if doctors stopped serving the wishes of a patient due to judgments they passed? This would leave the ethics of scientific and medical procedures solely on the judgment of the doctors performing the procedures. "We hope it's not just up to the moral decisions of the doctor," said Maher. "Then you'd have a wide plurality or moral standards."
This raises another interesting question, if doctors are not the ones making the decision as to which procedures are ethical and which are not, then who does? The medical sciences alone cannot make these decisions for itself. Maher reminds critics that "The problem is that science cannot generate its own moral standards. Science cannot prove scientifically what the right moral standards are."
People cannot blame the progression of science on what they feel is an irresponsible decision on Suleman's part because there is no aspect of science than can methodically gage an ethical decision. If we restricted medicine only to what was necessary of survival, then doctors would have to take away peoples' eye glasses and Viagra. After all, they merely fill a patient's desires, no different from Suleman.
Suleman's story should help us take a step back and look at her situation from an objective view point. When the tabloids and activists are done exposing her, the issues surrounding the story will still remain. As intelligent students at Assumption College, we should take a step back from the media gossip and raise the questions that need to be raised: Have our reasons for procreating changed over the past couple decades? What is the difference between medical science and technological science? Should we be able to play God? Where do we draw the line?
As we enter our adult lives, issues surrounding having children will be a prevalent topic for us and some of us will face problems of infertility or even disease that requires controversial procedures. It is our generation who will be entering the next progression of scientific technology and these ethical issues are for us to contemplate.