Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

Should we do it just because science can?

Octuplets, 60-year-old new mom give rise to ethical, moral debates

Science has a lot to answer for. In Calgary a 60-year-old mother gives birth to twins. In Los Angeles a 33-year-old woman who lives at home with her parents gives birth to octuplets. She already has six kids. She tells NBC she always dreamed of having a large family.

Both women underwent In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) a procedure that has given hope, and offspring, to countless couples over the past three decades.

Louise Brown, the world's first test tube baby, was born in 1978. The procedure is now commonplace, though not always successful, and not always applauded. The religious right still condemns the practice as producing "man-made" rather than "God-made" people.

The debate over the recent births has begun in earnest. The case of the octuplets is obviously the more troubling, because Nadya Suleman is manically obsessed with having children.

There are all kinds of serious ethical debates surrounding this one, but my biggest question (after, is it in the best interests of the kids?) is how does any parent live in the same house as 14 kids all between the ages of a few weeks and seven years old, without going loopy?

Every parent knows that raising even one young child can be a demanding experience. Two is challenging. Three frazzles you. Four puts you into a permanent state of exhaustion.

Nadya said she was lonely as an only child. OK, but 14 kids seems a tad of an overreaction. Maybe she should have, as a child, played dressup with 14 Barbies. That might have cured her. Yikes, dressing 14 kids to go out to the park will be impossible. She's lucky she doesn't have to put them into snowsuits.

Ranjit Hayer's situation is somewhat different. She too had her heart set on a baby. Just one. She and her husband kept trying for a baby for more than 40 years. She told CBC, somewhat poignantly, that she used to say to her husband, "Go ahead and marry someone else, you have earned so much."

She went to India for fertility treatments, where the regulations for the procedures are somewhat lax. Ranjit's doctor, Colin Birch, who delivered the children said, significantly, "We can do so much, but the question is, should we do it just because we can do it?"

There should be two central questions: Is it in the best interests of the child? And is it in the best interests of the parent? They're easy questions, with complex answers. Ranjit couldn't get the fertility treatment here in Canada. But does anyone think she'll be a bad mother or the baby will have an unhappy childhood?

Now everyone over the age of, say, 50 is probably cringing at the thought of having to raise a child at a time when they should be considering grandchildren, where the stereotype is that you play with them for awhile and then hand them back to mum and dad when you're exhausted or need their diaper changing.

Where, you wonder, will this 60-year-old get the energy from? Well, from her extended family, apparently, and that's part of the Indo-Canadian culture that has always impressed me. Family members pull together to care for one another, to help one another out on a daily basis.

A young Indo-Canadian woman working at our TV station once had a new baby. When she came back from maternity leave, I asked her if she'd be OK coping with juggling long shifts, irregular hours and a new child. No prob, she said. The nice thing about her culture is "my baby is going to have lots of love and attention from a whole lot of family."

The new twins' mother will be almost 80 when they finish school, 90 when they turn 30. Some will argue that that's unfair on the kids, but I'm not sure. Just knowing they were wanted, really wanted, might be enough.

My concern, three decades after Louise Brown was hailed as a miracle baby, is where it will all stop. There is already, apparently, a 70-year-old mother out there. If science can do just about anything, then will we see octuplets as routine or 80-year-old mothers? Or 80-year-old mothers giving birth to octuplets?

It sounds preposterous, but so did a test tube baby not so long ago.

I wish both new mothers well. I hope it all works out. I hope they both prove the world wrong. I hope they can give their kids all the hugs they deserve.

I hope Ranjit gets some rest now and then. And I hope Nadya manages to remember the names of all 14 of her little ones.

Ian Haysom is news director of Global News in British Columbia. He divides his week between Central Saanich and Vancouver.