Family Matters

Oh, Baby: Octomom’s Doctor Could Lose His License

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Who’s worried about Octomom? Initially goo-goo-ga-ga over the idea of octuplets, the public quickly changed its tune when announcement of the births was soon overshadowed by news of Nadya Suleman’s other six kids and her apparent obsession with fertility treatment.

But an attorney for the state of California still cares: Deputy Attorney General Judith Alvarado made the case this week that Suleman’s doctor, Michael Kamrava, knowingly endangered her by transferring 12 embryos, which ultimately yielded eight babies who will celebrate their second birthday in January. (More on Study: IVF Causes Higher Rates of Baby Boys)

The tough talk came at Kamrava’s licensing hearing before the Medical Board of California. Expected to last two weeks, the hearing could result in a board decision to suspend or revoke the medical license of Kamrava.

Suleman’s babies arrived nine weeks early, racking up exorbitant hospital bills that Suleman, who is unemployed, likely has little chance of ever paying off. But forget the money; premies and mega-multiples are more prone to health problems and developmental delays than singletons. It’s a dicey game that Suleman, 33, played, with assistance from Kamrava.

All told, Kamrava apparently transferred some 40 embryos to Suleman to achieve six pregnancies. In doing so, he thumbed his nose at the embryo-transfer guidelines issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). Women under age 35 should transfer no more than two, and preferably only one, fertilized embryo at a time. For women over age 40, the limit is five. (More on Building a Brighter Kid: Consider IVF)

Of course, guidelines are just that; they are not laws. Nor should we be in the business of legislating reproduction, fertility specialist Richard Paulson told TIME last year. Make no mistake; he’s appalled at the thought of triplets, but Paulson, director of the fertility program at the University of Southern California and one of the authors of the original professional recommendations regarding embryo transfer, says outrageous cases like the octuplets are hardly the norm.

“We’re picking out this incredibly rare event, and all of a sudden, we want to pass laws,” says Paulson. “Would we write laws limiting the size of someone’s family to six? Restricting reproductive rights would be a minefield.”

Yet standing by after a doctor acted irresponsibly seems irresponsible in its own right. It’s hard to say who’s more at fault here: Suleman for forging ahead and super-sizing her family or Kamrava for facilitating her folly. What seems certain is that some sort of sanction is in order.

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