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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/15/09

Public Policy Implications of the Suleman Case

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Message Renee Beauregard

The aberrant case of the Suleman octuplets, and its implication on public policy, has brought forth a fierce and emotional debate during difficult economic times.  The case impacts many areas of public policy, which could also have implications on innocent people.  The State of California, federal government and citizens should think critically about these issues before rushing to change policy or apply a different set of laws to the Suleman family that could later become the standard.

Fertility clinic ethics, rules and guidelines

Fertility clinics already have standards for the number of embryos that should be transferred.  In this case, the system failed because the mother knew the success rate is very low and because she knew that the remaining embryos would be destroyed.  Perhaps a guideline for the number of embryos that can be created would be more effective to reduce the problem with moral decisions for parents.  However, people typically go to fertility clinics knowing all the ramifications of their choices, as did Ms. Suleman.  Reducing the number of embryos created could mean a great loss for other potential parents.

Responsibilities of egg and sperm of donors

Donors are required to give up all rights and responsibilities to their donations or any child born of such arrangement (including custody, visitation, and inheritance) even if they are unsuccessful with their own future infertility treatments. 

Forcing the donor in the Suleman case to take responsibility for the children would require changes in law or policy that would implicate every man and woman who have ever donated.  They could be forced to pay child support on children they do not know and could have claims against their estates from those children.  Although the donor in the Suleman case is reported to be a friend, it does not change the facts.  The donor gave up his rights and did not have any rights in determining how many children would result from his donation.  He entered the agreement on these terms.

Roe vs. Wade

Roe vs. Wade has a few implications when it comes to IVF.  First, if many embryos are implanted and do effectively grow, the doctor and patient must sometimes determine if a reduction of the number of embryos is necessary for the healthy growth of all.  Without Roe vs. Wade, this would not be possible.  There have been cases of disputes by divorcing couples over frozen embryos as well. 

A woman’s right to make her own decisions about her healthcare and body goes both ways.  If a woman decides to have children, there is no legal way to stop her and rightly so.  If we decided to enact laws to limit who could have children and under what circumstances, the government would effectively be in control of all births. 

Public benefits

Through no fault of their own, many children are born with genetic disorders, austim, mental illness and physical disabilities.  Such children need thousands of dollars worth of therapies at a young age to help them to reach their full potential.  Oftentimes that full potential enables them to live full and independent lives, and even the best private health insurance often does not cover the therapies.  The cost of care when they are young is less than it is when they are adults and need lifetime care.

The government has never had laws pertaining to accessing SSI or food stamps when children are in the family based on “the sins of the parent.”  If that happened, there would be hundreds of thousands more hungry and homeless children in our country.  Children born with drug addiction and fetal alcohol syndrome would die without the help they receive from the government. 

When a family receives SSI for a child with a disability, they are required to use those funds in very specific ways to provide therapy and medical care not covered by Medicaid or insurance for that child.  The money is not available to the parent to use for any other purpose.  Reports must be submitted to the government on the use of those funds for the child.  If a parent mishandles those funds, there is a price to pay for that.  It is monitored and reviewed.    

Should the parent be unable to feed the child and provide medical care because SSI and food stamps are not available to them, social services would then be in a position to intervene.  Those children would go to foster care, and the government would pay for 100% of the care. 

The potential “social irresponsibility” policy

There are people who believe that all women should have pre-natal testing and that they should be forced to abort fetuses that have detectable conditions that require special care.  Others have said that if the mother chooses to give birth to a child with an identified condition, she should not be allowed to obtain public assistance for that child because she knowingly gave birth to a child she could not support. 

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Renee Beauregard is the mother of an adult with special needs and the owner of a marketing and communications firm in Colorado which serves several charities. She is a consumer and disability advocate and has founded several nonprofit organizations.
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