Octuplets' Birth Sparks Fertility Debate
Fertility Experts Question Medical Ethics of Transferring Embryos to California Mom
Feb. 10, 2009 - As the mother and grandmother of the two-week-old California
octuplets squared off on competing morning talk shows this week, infertility
specialists continue to voice their dismay over the fertility treatment that
led to the birth of the eight babies.
In an interview that aired on NBC's Today show, Nadya Suleman, 33,
said her fertility doctor did nothing wrong by transferring six embryos into
her womb when she had already given birth to six babies through in vitro
Suleman's mother, Angela Suleman, says she disagrees with her daughter's
decision to undergo the treatment that led to the birth of the octuplets. She
called her daughter's actions "really unconscionable" in an interview
that aired on ABC's Good Morning America.
Infertility specialists have their own views. Many have been deeply critical
of the fertility doctor who treated Suleman.
On Feb. 6, the Medical Board of California announced plans to investigate
the fertility doctor who treated Suleman. The board did not identify the
doctor, but the Today show identified the clinic as the West Coast IVF
Clinic in Beverly Hills, Calif.
"I am deeply disappointed that any fertility clinic in the United
States, or anywhere, would do this," says Colorado reproductive
endocrinologist Eric Surrey, MD, who is a past president of the Society for
Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART).
"There may be a medical justification, but I can't think of one, and
I've been doing this for 20 years," he tells WebMD.
Nadya Suleman's View
Suleman, who is unmarried, unemployed, and living with her parents, told
NBC's Ann Curry that she knew there was a risk of multiple births if she had
all six of her remaining frozen embryos transferred at one time.
But she said she did not believe it would happen because she had so many
fertility problems, including severe endometriosis and scarred fallopian
All six embryos did implant, however, and two apparently split, resulting in
"The most I would have ever anticipated would have been twins," she
told Curry. "It wasn't. It was twins times four."
She said with her medical history, she considered it "very
appropriate" for her doctor to transfer so many embryos.
"He did nothing wrong," she said.
But Atlanta infertility doctor Mark Perloe, MD, of Georgia Reproductive
Specialists, strongly disagrees.
He points out that her chances for a successful pregnancy were actually very
good, considering her young age and the fact that she had -- by her own account
-- four previous successful single-birth pregnancies and one twin pregnancy
resulting from IVF.
Guidelines for Embryo Transfers
Fertility treatment guidelines call for women under 35 who have favorable
chances for a successful pregnancy to have no more than two fresh embryos
transferred. Suleman's embryos had been frozen, but there was still no
justification for transferring more than two or at most three, Perloe says.