Multiple Births: Bundles of Joy

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
by Elaine Rho

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The recent birth of the Houston octuplets, as well as the birth of the McCaughey septuplets in 1997, have raised numerous ethical questions. While some see these births as a cause for celebration, others see them as yet another example of modern medicine gone amok. Putting aside the cost of the pregnancy and caring for these babies, which will run into the millions, were the risks to the mother and infants justified?

The smallest of the Houston octuplets, who died within several days, weighed only 10.3 ounces at birth — small enough to fit into the palm of a hand. And the surviving infants still face increased risks of death and significant lifelong health problems. Would reduction —a form of early selective abortion— have been a wiser choice? Should people with strong religious beliefs against reduction be taking part in these fertility treatments?

These are difficult questions, yet some women's only chance of having a child is to undergo risky and controversial fertility procedures. However, with the increased use of fertility-enhancing drugs and techniques, as well as changes in the maternal age distribution (the proportion of mothers aged 30 and over has greatly increased), this will continue to be a topic of debate for years to come. In fact, multiple births have been on the rise for years. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), between 1971 and 1994, the ratio of triplet to single births (as well as their actual number) quadrupled, rising from 1,034 to 4,594 and from 29.1 to 116.2 per 100,000 live births.

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