Birth of octuplets provides fertile ground for debate

Pamela Doucette thought she was done having children when she was just 28 years old. After her second child she had tubal ligation surgery, a procedure to tie-off the fallopian tubes to prevent future pregnancies.

Four years later she met her husband to be; when the couple married they talked of having children, which meant reversing Pamela’s surgery.

“The doctor that did the surgery said there was no way it (tubal ligation) could be reversed but that I was young and a perfect candidate for in vitro,” Doucette said.

“I had to have daily shots of hormones and daily ultra sounds. I would do blood work every day and I had to drive to the clinic and get my blood taken to track my ovulation,” Doucette said.

Once she had ovulated the clinic gave her a shot to boost her egg production. The next day she realized the nurse at IVF Canada had given larger than recommended doses of hormones in her shots and she had developed ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.

“Women usually produce about six to nine eggs at a time,” Doucette said. “I had produced 41 eggs and my left ovary was huge. It was leaking fluid through out my body and into my lungs and my heart I had to be hospitalized for three days.”

Dr. Thomas Hannam, owner of Toronto’s Hannam Fertility Centre, has helped infertile couples and individuals reproduce for over two and a half years. For the reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist, there is one similarity between all his patients.

“Their desire to have a child is so important that people are willing to let that goal transcend anything else and they are determined in their dedication to this goal,” Dr. Hannam said. “I think it’s one of the most profound things that people face.”

The doctor said that because pregnancy is fundamentally a difficult process and because infertility affects millions of Canadians, the criteria to be considered for IVF should be based on the person’s ability and desire to have a child. The criteria are currently based on health and age, with the average age being 40 years old, Dr. Hannam said.

“If a person has diabetes, I’ll warn them of some of the complications that may occur with IVF,” Dr. Hannam said.

Ellie Tesher, a syndicated advice columnist and the author of ‘The Dionnes’, a history of Canada’s famous quintuplets, said today’s reproductive science has moved the bar of ethics and common sense when it comes to multiple births.

There is no comparison between the Dionnes, who were conceived naturally in 1934, near Corbeil, Ont. and Nadya Suleman, who recently gave birth to eight babies in Bellflower, Calif. after undergoing fertility treatment, said Tesher.

Suleman, like the Dionnes, has gained fame from her multiple birth but unlike with the Dionnes, the public has been nearly universal in its condemnation of Suleman’s engineered births, with some commentators calling for regulation of fertility treatments.

“What this mom did is unforgivable,” Tesher said. “While people are having difficulties with the economic downturn this woman uses public money for a sideshow.”

Dr. Hannam encourages public coverage of IVF that would allow the government to regulate how many fertilized eggs can be implanted into a woman per a procedure. This could reduce the risks of multiple births the doctor said.

Public funding could also cap the number of procedures one person can have Dr. Hannam said.  These kinds of laws, already in place in countries such as Israel, better regulate the procedures and assist struggling couples like the Doucettes.

“I think things happen for a reason,” Doucette said. “I couldn’t have given my two kids the same attention if I ended up with triplets.”