ATLANTA — Lawmakers in two states, outraged by the birth of octuplets to a California mother, are seeking to limit the number of embryos that may be implanted by fertility clinics.
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The legislation in Missouri and Georgia is intended to spare taxpayers from footing the bill for women having more children than they can afford. But critics say the measures also would make having even one child more difficult for women who desperately want to become mothers.
"What they are proposing is a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach," said Dr. Andrew Toledo, medical director of the Atlanta-based Reproductive Biology Associates. "Not every couple and not every patient is the same."
Infertility doctors argue that decisions on how many embryos to transfer should be left up to medical experts familiar with a patient's individual circumstances.
Debate has raged since Nadya Suleman gave birth to octuplets in Bellflower, Calif., on Jan. 26. She has six other children, lives in her mother's three-bedroom home and has relied on food stamps and disability income to provide for her family.
"It's unforgivable," said Ralph Hudgens, a state senator who is sponsoring the Georgia bill. "This woman already has six children. She's unemployed, and she's going and having 14 children on the backs of the taxpayers of the state of California."
Hudgens, a Republican, has proposed legislation that would allow no more than two embryos to be implanted at any one time in a woman younger than 40. For women older than 40, the legislation would limit the number of embryos to three to account for increased difficulty getting pregnant.
Supporters say the measure is needed to rein in lucrative baby-making businesses often more concerned with success rates and profit than with ethics.
Hudgens, a Republican, agreed to sponsor the bill after being approached by the Georgia Right to Life group. The proposal comes up for a hearing Thursday before the Senate's Health and Human Services Committee.
Supporters say the bill would cut down on the number of unused embryos. But opponents argue that would severely limit the options of women paying $10,000 to $15,000 for each fertility cycle.
Standard is usually two or three embryos
In Missouri, a bill seeks to enact guidelines from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. The guidelines include a recommended number of embryos that should be implanted in a woman based on her age and prognosis for a successful pregnancy.
In most cases, the society calls for two or three embryos, though women older than 40 could be implanted with up to five.
"It's just not a good thing to be having that many multiple births if you can avoid it," said Missouri state Rep. Rob Schaaf, a family physician who sponsored the bill. "I'm just simply saying keep the risk down."
The legislative efforts concern Bernita Malloy, a federal prosecutor in Atlanta who said she would not have been able to have her 20-month-old daughter, Makenzie, under the proposed law. It took 25 eggs and three in-vitro cycles for her to conceive one child.
"They are legislating based on a knee-jerk reaction," Malloy said. "What they don't get is every embryo doesn't make a baby. This bill is devastating."
'Raises huge legal issues'
Legal experts say limiting a woman's right to procreate raises constitutional concerns.
"I think it raises huge legal questions," said Ruth Claiborne, an Atlanta lawyer specializing in family law and infertility issues. "There are individual legal interests in procreation, and I think you would almost certainly see this challenged (in the courts)."
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine guidelines are not binding, but doctors do answer to individual state licensing boards.
"This is an unregulated industry that is driven by money," said David Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences at the conservative Family Research Center.
Toledo, of the Atlanta reproductive group, said reproductive specialists are being tarnished by the actions of the doctor in California who implanted Suleman with six fertilized embryos. She went on to have octuplets after two of the embryos presumably split.
The Medical Board of California said last week it was looking into the Suleman case to see if there was a "violation of the standard of care."
According to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20 percent of clinics nationwide follow the guidelines. For women under 35, the reports show that just 83 of 426 clinics followed the guidance calling for no more than two embryos.
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