It seems that the continuing saga of the single California woman who gave birth to octuplets, while having 6 other children at home is akin to watching a car crash.  You really do not want to look, but you are transfixed, watching the damage occur almost in slow motion.

Everyone has an opinion on this matter. There is a saying in the legal community that bad cases make bad law.  I think that this is an example of that truism.  After all, don’t you want to take those children and place them somewhere else?  Don’t you want to shake mom by the shoulders and yell “what were you thinking?”  Wouldn’t you like to find the sperm donor and find out why he agreed to the arrangement and if he feels some responsibility for this mess?  And don’t you want to yank the doctor’s medical license?

These are reasonable responses.  But there is another way to look at these issues.  If you had the legal power to do this, it would not just affect “Octo-Mom”.  It would also affect other women who have children through (anonymous or known) sperm donors.  It might  affect mothers who conceive the conventional way, whether married or un-married.

“What were you thinking” you yell.  Well, who gets to decide how large a family is too large.  Raising a family is not about how much money you have or how many children sleep in 1 bed.  We criticize China for mandating 1 child per couple. The result of that social policy (and that law) resulted in the killing or warehousing of baby girls in China.  Some religions mandate no birth control.  Many people believe that children are a blessing and the more children, the more blessings.  Who gets to decide?  Why?  Certainly there are reasons for concern in this case, but how do you know until octuplets are born, that 8 children will survive a difficult pregnancy.  And would you want a law forcing the selective termination of the fetuses against the mother’s will?

How about the sperm donor?  Laws protect those who donate their sperm or their eggs to people who wish to have children, but who face biological or societal barriers.  These laws were enacted so that people who wanted to have children could do so.  Our national values support having a family and the ability to donate eggs or sperm to an unrelated third party or to a medical facility for someone’s use is protected.  How can we ask someone who did this protected by law to care for children he did not want, in a situation he could not have foreseen?  Or could he?  Should he?  And if we change the laws, does that mean that an adoption or an unexpected pregnancy should tie biological parents together, even if that is not what they want?  And what about the child?

Doctor, how could you not know this was not a good idea?  There are rules governing the best practice in fertility treatments.  Implanting 8 embryos at once is not favored.  And your patient has 6 other children at home.  What were you thinking?  But—why does a doctor get to make the decision.  Do you want your physician to decide how many children you can have?  Do you want your doctor deciding you have too many or too few kids?  Do you want your congressperson, your neighbor, or even your mother telling you how many children it is ok for you to have?

Finally, even if you want that kind of social, legal and/or state interference in deciding the number of children you may raise, what is the punishment for not following the rules.  Do you take the children away?  Don’t children have the right to be raised by their parents, as long as they are healthy and cared for?  Again, who makes these decisions?  Strangers?  Family?  Clergy?  Me?

Until there are good answers, we will just have to watch the spectacle of “Octo-Mom” and give thanks she’s not related to us!