Tuesday, February 10, 2009

To blame, or not to blame?

by Jordan Bubin

I’m going to have to disagree with Christina – I very much think we ought to be “judging” Nadya Suleman, who recently gave birth to IVF-conceived octuplets, making her a mother of fourteen. I’m not even interested in any ulterior financial motives she may have had; completely apart from any hope for book deals,or something of that ilk, Suleman's actions were reprehensible.

Before we even consider Suleman’s ability to care for the kids, think about her non-financial motives. Christina claims “it is very much worth pointing out that Suleman went into this last IVF treatment hoping for only one more child,” because we wouldn’t be questioning Suleman’s “if she had given birth to only one or even two children instead of eight.” I disagree.

I’m under the impression that fertility clinics exist, at least theoretically, to aid those who can’t otherwise have children. I don't think that they ought to exist so that, if I’m in the mood, I can order a couple extra children. Of course we can’t deny the legitimacy, in general, of a wish to have children, and I don’t think it’s at all ethical to legally limit the number of kids someone may have. But it’s also unethical, from an individual perspective, to have kids, eight of them, just to make yourself feel better.

If you’re feeling down, I suggest exercise, or maybe a beer, before going to the extreme of creating life. It seems a generally acceptable precept that we ought not use other people merely as a means to an end, and having kids for the purpose of, say, fixing a marriage, or because one has a bad childhood, seems to me like maybe it fits in that category.

And hey: If she only wanted one kid—why not adopt?

Christina points out that Suleman “has not been (and hopefully never will be) proven unfit” to have all these kids. Maybe she’s never been declared legally unfit—which is a bit of an empty description—but let’s consider the situation: she’s unemployed, and her mother pays for rent and food for the kids. To me, her single status is irrelevant. If Joe from my hometown, aged 18, knocks his 17-year-old girlfriend up (again) while proving himself incapable of keeping a job at the local gas station, I think it’s safe to say he ought not to be having the kid. Again, it’d be a strange world where the state could step in and tell him he’s got to abort the kid (Hi, China) but I don't think I’m out in left field by saying that Joe is an idiot. The same goes for Suleman—if you’re planning on somehow having the wherewithall to raise fourteen kids, it might be good to get a job to feed them first.

The fact that Suleman has claimed she will refuse welfare, in other words, seems more than a little hollow when her mother is paying her rent. As for getting a job? Suleman wants to be a counselor. I’m confident that she’s not someone I need advice from.

In fact, looking at Suleman's situation, you’ve got to wonder what the doctor at the clinic was thinking. On one level, Suleman has six kids, so it seems like a horrible idea to implant her with six embryos—two split—when the American Society of Reproductive Medicine has already established guidelines that doctors should only transfer two embryos at a time, specifically because of the risk of high-order pregnancies.

But on a more basic level, why was the doctor doing the procedure in the first place? If I apply for a loan, they're going to check out my past before they give it to me. If you’re a doctor, what ethical precept are you working under where it’s okay to implant embryos in a unemployed individual with a history of suicidal depression and bankruptcy who already has six kids? I’m not the only one thinks there’s at least some stupidity in the idea; her doctor for the first six pregnancies had apparently hit even their limit, and had refused to do the seventh implantation.

Now that I think about it, she probably couldn’t have adopted—because no sensible case worker would have placed yet more kids into what is in fact the grandmother’s apartment.

In the end, you can’t even defend Suleman’s refusal to selectively abort any of her embryos as “courageous,” as Christina put it. By living for an entire week, Suleman’s children became the longest surviving octuplets in history. In every other case where all eight infants even made it to birth, at least one infant died within a week—in the first known case, they all died within 14 hours. Suleman told NBC that it’s “always” a gamble when one decides to have kids, and that’s one way of putting it. Another is that it’s a miracle her infants are still alive, and that she was, at the time she chose to have all of them, essentially leaving to nature and luck the choice of which would die.

8 Comments:

At February 10, 2009 at 1:58 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...

It's courageous insofar as she is not cowering away from having the children rather than killing them. Instead of looking at all these practical issues you raise, she realizes that the persons inside of her have dignity and worth as they are, regardless of what kind of world they are brought into. It is because of this human dignity that drives Christina to make her remark.

In fact, it doesn't seem entirely clear, from your post at least, that there are any defensible points, at least with the end of showing why Suleman's refusal is anything but courageous. All you show is that she made some bad decisions going into it. But then again, we all make bad decisions. All make decisions we wish we could have chosen another way, taken another road. I sure as hell wish that Suleman had waited, in fact, I think it is morally reprehensible of her to have had the children implanted (Non-Identity Problem in Derek Parfitt's "Reasons and Persons"). However, this doesn't mean we can now abort children to make it the case that we didn't go down the road we did, or she did, in this case. At least, it is not as apparent as you make it sound.

And why exactly shouldn't we have kids as a means to an end? Could you elaborate on this point? What does it really matter if they could be aborted anyway? It seems like a perfectly fine decision to make if you can, a month or whenever down the road, once you are feelings better, abort the fetus. Why not treat children, especially the lump of cells that is a fetus, as a means to an end, especially if that end is the happiness of a much larger lump of cells that can feel and would be made happier by childbirth? I wager that if you really think about the repercussions of your arguments you will either have to admit that having children and then proceeding to kill them at a young, infantile age is ok, or that humans do indeed have dignity that is worth protecting, even at the ripe age of one day.

 
At February 10, 2009 at 5:15 PM , Anonymous Chloe Angyal said...

"And why exactly shouldn't we have kids as a means to an end?"... That doesn't really seem consistent with the pro-life view that "the persons inside of her have dignity and worth," does it?

 
At February 11, 2009 at 2:24 PM , Anonymous Dan said...

Chloe: it was a rhetorical question. If you can articulate why we shouldn't treat a human fetus as a mere means to an end, you are well on your way to becoming pro-life.

 
At February 11, 2009 at 3:09 PM , Blogger Franki said...

"And why exactly shouldn't we have kids as a means to an end?"

Because when you're responsible for the life of another human being, you should probably see that human being as an individual of value rather than just something you're using to make yourself feel better. Once you get past the "beauty of human life" rhetoric, you have to deal with the fact that these are people who need to be valued and cared for and respected on an individual basis, which is difficult when you were born to be Mommy's little emotional crutch.

 
At February 11, 2009 at 5:05 PM , Anonymous Chloe Angyal said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At February 11, 2009 at 5:07 PM , Anonymous Chloe Angyal said...

People shouldn't be used as a means to an end - I think that's something we can all agree on. It's not a pro-life argument, it's just human decency. Children shouldn't be brought into the world, as Jordan rightly noted, to save a marriage or to save the mother's self esteem. Suleman shouldn't have brought into the world children for whom she wasn't equipped to care simply because she needed an emotional crutch. Above, Roscoe is simultaneously arguing that people have inherent dignity and worth, even in utero (that IS a pro-life position), and also that it's acceptable to use people as a means to an end. I was merely trying to point out

 
At February 11, 2009 at 6:13 PM , Anonymous Dan said...

Oh, for crying out loud Chloe... Roscoe may have used awkward language, but he is obviously *not* arguing that it's acceptable to use people as a means to an end.

 
At February 12, 2009 at 12:21 AM , Anonymous Chi '11 said...

I agree with this post, but I just wanted to quickly address your "why not adopt" comment. While adoption is wonderful and should be more encouraged, it is still (at least, in the U.S.) an incredibly arduous process, which in some cases, can take years (and even then, you're not guaranteed a kid). Not only that, but it's my understanding that many insurance companies cover the cost of IVF and fertility drugs but not adoptions. Taking into account all these issues, it's easy to see why so few people adopt.

Of course, none of what I said applies to Suleman, who's too mentally unstable to be a parent in any way, shape, or form (be it through adoption or medical methods).

 

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