Sunday, March 15, 2009

My Take On the Octomom

MY THOUGHTS: 8 babies is in vitro fertilization run amok

There is nothing reasonable or sane about eight newborns, all with their endless newborn needs, being cared for by one mother.

By Tom Graves
Special to Viewpoint (*note: This editorial appeared on the op-ed page of The Commercial Appeal on Thursday, February 5, 2009 shortly after the first news about the birth of Nadya Suleman's octuplets.)

Writer Gore Vidal, who is unquestionably the wittiest and most whimsical provocateur of his generation, once half-seriously proposed a solution to overpopulation in this country. (It should be remembered that overpopulation was one of the great sources of fright a few decades past. We now have far worse frights over which to fret.)

Vidal said that all women should be provided a government card allowing the birth of two children tax-free. After that, Uncle Sam would place such a heavy tax burden on a third child that few would risk such financially punitive measures. Knowing full well the outcry he was likely to get from such an outrageous idea, Vidal added blithely that our society already has dictated how many spouses we may have at any given time and what sex they must be and only a noisy minority objects to that; why not carry things one step further?

I've laughed and told friends and colleagues about Vidal's "solution" for over 20 years -- that is, until I read the news last week about Nadya Suleman, the baby hoarder. After already having given birth to six children, reportedly without the benefit of a father, Suleman upped the ante to 14 with the birth of octuplets -- conceived, we are told, through the modern convenience of in vitro fertilization.

According to news reports, Suleman's mother Angela Suleman says that all 14 of her daughter's children were produced not through flesh-to-flesh contact, like most of the other 6 billion of us on this planet, but through the sterile facilities of laboratories and clinics by people with impressive degrees and starched white coats. It took 46 physicians and staff to deliver all eight of Nadya Suleman's babies in Bellflower, Calif., on Jan. 26.

After taking all this in and giving it judicious thought, I can think of no good reason why laws should not be passed to remedy such idiocy in the future. Any clouded scientific minds that have supported such an obscene joke on Mother Nature should contemplate their folly while stamping out license plates at the local penitentiary.

Even the grandma in this case has cried "enough!"

"It can't go on any longer," Angela Suleman told The Associated Press. "She's got six children and no husband. I was brought up the traditional way. I firmly believe in marriage. But she didn't want to get married."

Make that 14 children now -- and who knows what the final tally may be?

Like most sensible people, I fully support a woman's right to use the medical advances in reproductive technology to have children when otherwise she cannot. Although I am a bit old-fashioned in thinking that the best environment in which to raise a child is a loving home with two stable, married parents (preferably, one of each gender), those who do not fit into my admittedly narrow view of optimum parentage certainly should retain their reproductive rights. Within reason and sanity, that is.

But there is nothing reasonable or sane about eight newborns, all with their endless newborn needs, being cared for by one mother. I cannot imagine the work involved with caring for twins, much less four times that many babies. And what of the six older children? What quality of life will they have under these extreme circumstances? How can any nurturing or attention be given to one without interruption by 13 (and counting) siblings?

I, for one, cry foul. This simply should not be allowed, no matter how badly neurotic mothers desire yet another baby. There should be logical limits placed on in vitro fertilization, based on the number of offspring a potential mother already has and the family environment, including the mother's ability to provide financial and emotional stability for a new child.

Those with more children than sense should be told no, and the rest of us should feel no guilt in telling them so. And if that doesn't work, maybe Gore Vidal can still offer us a two-fer.

Tom Graves of Memphis teaches English and humanities at LeMoyne-Owen College. He also is the author of the novel "Pullers" and the biography "Crossroads: The Life and Afterlife of Blues Legend Robert Johnson."

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