As reported by the Valley Advocate, August 27, 2009.

The World This Week: Miss Conception

Reproductive Freedom Experts Are Not Amused by the Ongoing Saga of Octomom

By Alan Bisbort

Octomom will not go gently into the good night of obscurity. When Nadya Suleman, aka Octomom, gave birth to octuplets on Jan. 26, she became a poster girl for American excess. Already a mother of six, she sought, and was provided, fertility treatments so she could have more; she was implanted with eight embryos. Though unemployed, she used student loans and disability checks to defray medical costs, and though she was unmarried, few questions were asked about who would provide care—much less how—for this new brood. Nor did anyone seem to wonder what would happen to Suleman's six living kids if she died in childbirth—a risk with births above triplets.

Now Octomom has signed a deal for a reality TV show. The producers have no interest in the Sulemans' well-being or the enlightenment of a TV audience. They simply want a freak show to unfold weekly until Octomom is placed in a rubber room. The always sensitive Fox Network aired a two-hour "special" last week, Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage. The only entertaining part of this show was the justification for it given by the network. Mike Darnell, head of Fox reality programming, said the network set up a "six-figure" account for the Suleman kids. "We thought it was the right thing to do," he told CNN. He also said he didn't believe Fox was exploiting the 14 children because "the footage already existed."

Clearly, the one overriding aspect of this entire situation is that there does not appear to have been a single adult involved in any aspect of it.

Even as Americans get their future jollies by watching the weekly Octomom episode, medical experts will not be entertained. Dr. David Schmidt, the attending reproductive endocrinologist at the University of Connecticut Health Center's fertility clinic, said, "Our policy is to adhere to the guidelines of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. We would never transfer more than two embryos for an adult over age 35. If you transfer, say, three embryos, there's only a 10 percent chance of any being born."

The backlash over Octomom spilled over into Schmidt's practice. "When the Octomom story broke, patients asked us about it, and some were worried that something similar might happen," he said. "But twins are the maximum we allow. Even triplets run a risk to the mother and the babies. What happens if we help someone conceive and then lose the three babies?"

Schmidt has little sympathy for Suleman's fertility doctor, but he understands the pressure he was under. "He got pressure from the patient, who already had the eight frozen embryos," said Schmidt. "Because patients are 'customers,' they can shop around. And they often do go elsewhere, especially where there is a higher concentration of fertility clinics, like in California."

Likewise, experts in the field of reproductive freedom are not entertained by Suleman. The battle for sensible, non-coercive, easily accessible family planning has been a long and painful one, and the elevation of Octomom to celebrity status is a setback to those efforts. One of the major victories for reproductive freedom in recent years has been that health insurance providers now must cover contraception for women. (In most states, insurance providers must also cover fertility treatments). "Contraception for women is not inexpensive," said Mary Bawza, chief operating officer of Planned Parenthood CT in New Haven. "You can pay $40 to $45 per cycle."

Thankfully, the refusal to provide these services—based on pharmacists' alleged "religious convictions"—is a thing of the past.

"We used to see it when emergency contraception was strictly a prescriptive thing," said Bawza. "We would get calls from women saying that 'my pharmacist is giving me a hard time. They want to know why I need another refill.' But now Plan B is an over-the-counter product, though you still have to ask the pharmacist for it, because it's behind the counter."