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Wednesday, November 26, 1997
By Greg Harman
Less of a miracle
more of a hurt
As the national press tosses laurels before the weary feet
of the McCaughey's, the Iowa couple who recently produced
seven children in a single go, and churches and major
corporations pledge to provide valuable food stuffs to the
family, an issue comes to mind that I haven't seen discussed
in the wake of an amazed populace.
The recent birth of septuplets has been handled gingerly by
all, treated as an event just short of divine
miracle-understandable, considering there has been only one
other such occurrence to my knowledge. But miracle or no, it
is one primarily of science.
Producing litters is not a naturally occurring phenomena in
the human realm - until recently that was left up to our
furry cousins. But, with the advent of potent fertility
drugs and in vitro fertilization practices, previously
infertile couples now have the hope of producing children of
their own, and with it comes the risk of over-abundance.
Since 1971, thanks to the medical establishment, the rate of
high-order multiple births (triplets or more) has more than
Most of us are well aware of the process involved, how the
eggs are taken from wannabe mothers and mixed with the
vigorous sperm in small plastic petri-dishes, and, after
successful conception, the concoction (containing as many as
6 to 11 embryos) is injected into the woman's womb. The hope
is that one may grow and come to term as a healthy baby.
This isn't how it often happens. Just imagine the following
The family doctor enters the room, where the
hope-wrung and anxious couple await his edict. As the doctor
speaks, the couple hang on every word, hoping that their
long trial may be over at last. "Well, Mr. and Mrs.
So-and-so, I have good news," the doctor says. The couple
ease back into their seats and tears begin to well up in the
"You are certainly, without a doubt, pregnant." The clasped
hands of the couple tighten, knuckles faintly whiten. "Very
pregnant," the doctor adds.
"Oh, it's so . . . so . . . wonderful!" Mrs. So-and-so
erupts. "Thank you, sir," she says. She turns her fawning
head to her husband, whose smile has diminished and is
looking directly at the doctor. Slowly, Mr. So-and-so
addresses the doctor. "Just a minute, Doctor, what exactly
do you mean by very pregnant?"
"Well," begins the doctor, shifting in his seat, "It seems
that you have, uh, well . . . how should I say it? There are
seven fetuses resting in your wife's womb." Mrs. So-and-so's
face slackens, and a heavy silence descends on the room.
"I'm sorry, did you say I had seven babies in me?"
"Well, seven fetuses, yes. This happens occasionally when we
assist couples such as yourselves, who hope to have children
of their own," the doctor explains. "Now comes the difficult
part. How many children would you like to bring to term?"
Another break in the conversation as the couple attempt to
understand what has been said. "How many would I like to
Couples who enlist the help of medical science are often
unable to make the seemingly cold and calculated decisions
that the partnership may demand. Especially when it comes to
human life. Doctors usually advise "selective reduction,"
the abortion of one or more of the fetuses, to insure the
safety of the mother and health of the remaining babies.
It is one thing to allow one's reproductive goo to be mixed
up in a dish and injected back into one's body - this is a
concession that most couples are willing to make when the
goal is producing an heir to carry on the family name - but
when science goes astray how have these couples been
prepared to make the god-like moral decision of which egg
will live and which one die?
One out of every six couples will seek help with
infertility, and one in twenty will never have children
despite all that medical science can offer. Meanwhile,
between 1974 and 1990, the number of adoptions has fallen
tremendously while the demand for in vitro fertilization has
I can understand how couples may go to extreme lengths to
have children of their own, but they should also be well
aware of the dangers. Whenever in vitro fertilization is
involved, dangers not only include the likelihood of
miscarriage, disease, multiple birth, or poverty (each
virile injection costs about $7,500, and usually couples
require several), but there is also the danger in being
forced to make the supreme decision of which child will live
and which will die. Often women cannot make that decision,
and often these multi-birth pregnancies don't turn out as
well as the McCaughey's.
Greg Harman is an Enterprise writer whose column appears
each Wednesday. He can be e-mailed at: email@example.com
Dear WWII Veterans/Defense Workers and Families:
Help save the personal legacy of World War II. The
experiences and memorabilia of those who served in the armed
forces and defense industries - so often discarded - is a
valuable part of this nation's history.
The Florida State University Department of History has set
up the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience to
collect and preserve this physical heritage for research,
teaching and exhibition. If you or someone you know may have
letters, diaries, photographs or other momentos of the
period, please contact the Institute at the Department of
History; Florida State University; Tallahassee, FL
32306-2200 (850-644-9541). We will be delighted to answer
any questions concerning the future of materials given to
William O. Oldson
Professor of History
Mae E. Nielander
Graduate Assistant Institute on World War II and the Human
Experience Department of History Florida State University
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