California octuplets case dismays fertility experts

Fri Jan 30, 2009 8:52pm EST
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The birth of octuplets in California, hailed as a medical triumph by doctors who delivered the tiny infants, has dismayed fertility experts who say high-number multiple births are an outcome they work hard to avoid.

The arrival of six boys and two girls on Monday, marking only the second known set of octuplets in the United States, has sparked intense interest and media coverage, particularly after reports the mother already had six other children.

But experts in reproductive health say an occurrence of octuplets represents a likely case of fertility assistance gone awry, posing grave risks to the health of the mother and her premature offspring.

"The cost of taking care of multiples is huge," said Dr. Vicken Sahakian, director of the Pacific Fertility Center in Los Angeles. "It's not going to finish when the babies go home. There's a high likelihood they're going to have (long-term) medical and psychological handicaps."

For that reason, the U.S. medical establishment has long-standing guidelines designed to reduce the probability of multifetal pregnancies.

A single, healthy baby is the ideal strived for by fertility specialists, said Dr. David Adamson, a fertility specialist and past president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Even twins can be fraught with complications for mother and babies, but three or more simultaneous births "are considered definitely an undesired outcome," he said.

The arrival of the octuplets, nine weeks premature, was celebrated as a medical success by doctors who handled their birth, but "only from the standpoint of maximizing delivery," said Dr. Mousa Shamonki, director of assisted reproduction at UCLA's medical school.   Continued...