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article imageUS Octuplets Drama Triggers Calls For Tougher Regulations

By Joan Firstenberg     Feb 8, 2009 in Health
The birth of octuplets to a California woman late last month, has prompted nations around the world to take another look into the who, what and where of IVF or in-vitro fertilisation.
The world is beginning to respond with calls for tougher regulations on assisted reproduction, after a California woman who already has six children at home, gave birth through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) to eight more babies. When the babies were born in late January, the event was hailed as a heart-warming miracle around the world. But as the details emerged about the mother, 33-year old Nadya Suleman and the role of health professionals in facilitating her multiple pregnancies, the reaction turned to anger. Suleman, it turns out, is a single mother living with her parents, with six other children aged seven and younger.
All of Suleman's 14 babies were born through IVF, which is when eggs are fertilised in a laboratory by a donor's sperm and then implanted in her womb.
But now, within the medical profession worldwide, experts are expressing their disbelief and dismay. They point out that multiple pregnancies are very often linked to premature births, low birth weight and neurological damage.
Peter Bowen-Simpkins, a British specialist with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says..
"It's the most irresponsible thing that I have ever heard in terms of fertility."
Bowen-Simpkins adds that many countries only have guidelines instead of legally-binding regulations to limit the number of embryos implanted into a women, and some countries have no restrictions at all.
Sean Tipton, spokesman of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) says the entire situation is being handled irresponsibly...
"High-order multiple births should never be considered a medical success story."
This past December, a 70-year old woman in India gave birth to her first child after receiving IVG therapy. Another 70-year old Indian woman had twins through IVF earlier in the year. And a similar case of twins occurred in Spain in 2007.
The strange situations are prompted by an improvement in the technology and the reduced cost of setting up an IVF clinic. Some doctors not happy with the whole thing say it has opened the way to "IVF tourism".
Bowen-Simpkins says it's like going shopping....for a child.
An infertile couple seeking donor eggs or sperm, an elderly woman craving a baby, or a man looking for a surrogate mother can shop around to get the service they need.".
He says the Mediterranean island of Cyprus has become a centre for what he calls an "absolutely horrifying" practice where young Russian women are flown in and given hormones to stimulate ovulation. Their eggs are then harvested and sold to other women who want donor eggs for IVF procedures.
Doctors say this a very worrying trend. Many countries are getting nervous about the way things are going, and are taking steps.
For example, in Britain, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) tightly controls IVF practices, limiting the number of implanted embryos to two at a time. And starting in 2011, just a single embryo will be allowed.
France, doesn't allow any anonymous donor sperm, and single women are excluded from IVF treatment, while only heterosexual couples are allowed to apply for it. Italy tightened up IVF regulations after controversial cases involving insemination of women in their sixties.
But, all this differing legislation within the European Union (EU) offers plenty of loopholes for IVF tourism, so a movement is afoot to set up an EU-wide agency with tough powers of scrutiny.
Suleman has still not revealed where she received the IVF treatment for the octuplets.
The United States has no national regulations on IVF, as rules and oversight vary from state to state but are often minimal or absent.
The ASRM's guidelines say a woman of Suleman's age should have no more than two implanted embryos. This could be increased to three from 35 to 37 years, to four embryos for ages 37-40, and five for a woman aged over 40.
Arthur Caplan, who directs the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said.
"Most clinics in the US are pretty responsible, but we have had over the years a series of troubling cases,"
These cases involved embryos stolen to make babies at an infertility programme in California and a woman from Spain who had triplets through IVF in California, and was later diagnosed as schizophrenic.
Caplan adds,
"In some cases, people are using sperm and embryos to make children from parents who are dead, effectively making orphans It is part of a trendline that says the business of infertility treatment in the US has become too much of a business."
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