09 February 2009

Weighing In, Reluctantly, On Ms. Suleman

The Mate and I spent ten long years longing for offspring before -- big surprise -- The Offspring made his appearance. (Yes, we attempted adoption. Maybe I'll tell that story another day.) So I really don't have it in me to judge Nadya Suleman for wanting children, and even for wanting several children, even though I don't think she's been particularly wise.

On the other hand, the environmental cost is clearly very high: fourteen children consume a considerable amount more resources than one or two, and going forward it's likely that those fourteen children will contribute additional numbers of people to the planet's burgeoning population in the next generation.

The other thing that bothers me about it is the medical resources used -- in vitro fertilization, frozen embryos, lengthy hospital stays for babies born prematurely and severely underweight and, most likely, further medical treatment for problems resulting from low birth weight (at birth, the biggest of the babies weighed 3 pounds, 4 ounces, and the smallest only a pound and a half).

Two weeks later, all the babies are still in incubators.

Doctors worry about babies being born weighing less than 5 1/2 pounds. That's almost four times the size of the littlest baby.

The Mate and I decided to forgo fertility treatment, for a host of reasons. We'd both been living with chronic illness for many years, and we just couldn't face signing up for more medical treatment. At least as importantly, though, we felt it wouldn't be right to use the medical resources required for fertility treatment when there were so many people out there with limited access to health care.

Obviously, our choice not to attempt pregnancy through medical intervention didn't mean that someone else with no health insurance was suddenly going to get access to excellent medical care. And however Ms. Suleman paid for IVF, and however she's paying for eight childrens' stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, those resources wouldn't be paying for well baby visits for un- or under-insured children if she hadn't had octuplets.

At the same time, we are in the midst of a health care crisis, with spiraling medical costs and tens of millions of Americans lacking in any health insurance. The costs associated with keeping eight tiny babies in intensive care for weeks, or even months, are staggering, and the series of choices made to arrive at that outcome is hard to support.

Even if some private citizen is paying, those are resources that would be better used to treat thousands of un-insured kids for routine and not-so-routine childhood illnesses.

Update: The New York Times estimates based on average costs of care for premature babies that the hospital care for the octuplets, until they're able to go home, could come to $1.3 million.