The mother of octuplets versus her doctor. Who should choose? Whom should society support?

A recent editorial here in Colorado Springs reported: An unemployed, divorced woman with six children – living with her bankrupt parents in their teensy weensy home – gave birth to eight babies after having fertilized eggs implanted in her uterus. At least one of her older six children has autism. For a variety of reasons, people are scandalized. Most people have religious or moral objections to this multiple birth. It’s hard to believe these children will get the care they need without becoming responsibilities of the state. It’s hard to imagine they won’t suffer. 

Yet, as shocking as it sounds, there are many who say that her right to this travesty outweighs her doctor’s right to refuse to participate. Does this make any sense?

More Information:

As the Gazette pointed out: If one encountered the physician who performed this implantation, a fair questioning might ensue: 

  • “Why did you do it? 
  • “Why did you help a woman produce eight children in one pregnancy? 
  • “What were you thinking? 
  • “Have you no scruples?”

Few would agree with anything the physician could say. It just doesn’t seem right. And now news reports are shining some light into his possibly immoral motivation(s). 

Furthermore, one can think of multiple religious and moral reasons why it seems wrong to help a poor woman with six needy children to artificially produce eight more – children that will cost society millions of dollars and children she and her family will likely not be able to properly care for.

Nevertheless, the California fertility doctor who implanted the octuplet mom with lots of embryos was no lone wolf as fewer than 20 percent of U.S. clinics follow professional guidelines on how many embryos should be used for younger women. Clearly, most programs are not adhering to the guidelines.

Fortunately, there are those, even though the minority, that choose to make the right decision. They choose to do what’s not only best for the woman, but also for her children.

But, imagine the federal government said the physician had no choice. 

Visualize a government that says any physician working for a business that receives federal funds – which includes most medical employers and medical practices – can be fired for refusing a medical procedure on a basis of moral or religious objections.

If our country had regulations such as that, then a physician would have no choice the next time a poor woman came in and asked for immoral assistance with in vitro fertilization and implantation of multiple embryos. Imagine the discussion:

Patient: “I’ll take eight of those zygotes, please doctor. It’s my uterus, and you must answer to me.”

Doctor: “Well that seems immoral,” the physician might say. “It violates my conscience. It’s wrong. It’s wrong for you. It’s wrong for your family. It’s wrong for society. And, it’s wrong for the children. I can’t do this and look at myself in the mirror.”

None of that would matter, because of potential federal regulations against physicians objecting on moral or religious grounds. Any such law or regulations, of course, would be absurd.

Yet an amazing number of Americans – even some who fancy themselves “libertarian” philosophers – advocate federal policies and laws that would effectively force physicians to go against their conscience – i.e., to force them to perform abortions and to prescribe the morning-after pill or abortion pill despite moral and religious objections. 

They speak about a patient’s “right” to health care procedures, callously dismissing the moral objections some doctors may have to specific medications or procedures.

They objected to the directive by then-President George W. Bush, which protects the jobs of health care workers who decline to perform abortions. While many would require doctors to perform abortions, few would advocate requiring them to implant multiple embryos in a womb. 

From a public policy perspective, the inconsistency is best characterized as an example of circumstantial ethics. 

Those who favor requiring physicians to perform abortions claim religious and moral objections have no merit. Yet, given another set of circumstances those religious and moral convictions have great merit.

That’s the problem with people who trade in circumstantial ethics: the root causes they project, such as “freedom from religion” and “moral neutrality in medicine,” appear as façades.

Individual freedoms, as protected by the United States Constitution, are not circumstantial. 

The free exercise of religion protects doctors who refuse to commit abortions, just as it protects the doctors who decline other, less fashionable procedures – including in vitro fertilization.