Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Infertility & Reproduction Health Center

Font Size

Octuplets' Birth Sparks Fertility Debate

Fertility Experts Question Medical Ethics of Transferring Embryos to California Mom

Guidelines for Embryo Transfers continued...

"There was a breach of ethical propriety here that was absolutely staggering," he tells WebMD.

Perloe even questions the ethics of treating Suleman at all. "I would not agree to treat a single mom on disability with six small children at home already."

SART and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) developed embryo transfer guidelines several years ago in an effort to reduce the number of high-order pregnancies, defined as triplets or more.

The guidelines make it clear that high-order pregnancies are an undesirable consequence of infertility treatment because of the extreme risk to the mother and her babies.

As a result of efforts to restrict the number of embryos transferred during IVF, the rate of high-order multiple births has been declining in the U.S.

"I would hate for the public to get the sense that this story is representative of fertility care," Surrey says. "It is a gross aberration. High-order pregnancies are now relatively rare, precisely because we have addressed this issue."

At Massachusetts General Hospital the standard practice is to transfer just one embryo at a time in women who are considered to have good chances of successful pregnancies.

Mass General chief of reproductive medicine John Petrozza, MD, tells WebMD that thanks to this practice the multiple pregnancy rate at the institution is now among the lowest in the country.

"We want to minimize high-order pregnancies because of the very real danger of premature delivery, low birth weight, and all the problems that go along with them," he says.

Medical Concerns for Multiple Births

Medical problems associated with preterm high-order pregnancies can include cerebral palsy, life-threatening respiratory problems, intestinal problems, developmental delays, and learning disabilities.

Surrey says the likelihood of an adverse outcome due to low birth weight and premature birth is seven times higher for twins that for single-gestation babies and 14 times higher for triplets.

The eight California babies are all breathing on their own, which is a very good sign, but they were a full 10 weeks early at the time of their birth and weighed between 1.8 and 3.4 pounds.

Multiple-birth experts say it may be years before the extent of their medical issues are known.

Maureen A. Doolan Boyle, who is the mother of triplets and the executive director of the organization Mothers of Super Twins (MOST), tells WebMD that the average gestational age for triplets is 33 to 34 weeks and the average gestational age for quadruplets is 31 weeks.

A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. Babies born before 37 weeks are considered preterm.

She says even premature babies who appear to be quite healthy often have long-term problems and developmental and learning challenges.

"Any baby born before 37 weeks should be followed for developmental milestones up until they start school," she says.


Today on WebMD

female reproductive system
healthtool ovulation calculator
Low Tech Fertility Treatment
Getting Pregnant
Which Treatment Is Right For You
Conception Myths
eddleman prepare your body pregnancy
Charting Your Fertility Cycle
Fertility Specialist
Understanding Fertility Symptoms
invitro fertilization

WebMD Special Sections