Berlin school teacher Annegret Raunigk is proudly prolific and, at age 65, not done making babies — pregnant with quadruplets that would enlarge her family from 13 to 17 children.
Raunigk said she became pregnant again because her 9-year-old daughter asked for a younger sibling. (Her first 12 children — by five men — are ages 22 to 44). She told German tabloid Bild that donated eggs were fertilized and implanted at a clinic in Ukraine. Multiple attempts were required to get the eggs to fertilize. She did not say whose sperm was used or if the egg donor was paid.
Some media outlets have trotted out the usual fluffy descriptions of "miracle" and "gift" while trying to figure out if she is the oldest woman ever to have a child (she isn’t) or to have quadruplets (almost certainly she is). But this line of reporting completely misses the mark.
What she is doing is unethical.
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She doesn't think so. But she left her country to receive an infertility treatment that's illegal in Germany due to her age. And she sought that help on the sole grounds that her youngest daughter wants a sibling. Of course, given that logic, future requests by any of her newest kids apparently guarantee no end to her pregnancies.
Raunigk sees nothing wrong. "How does one have to behave at 65?” she asks. "They can see it how they want to and I'll see it the way I think is right."
Well "they" — which includes me — thinks she is all wrong. The number of reasons why this very-late-in-life pregnancy is morally wrong nearly equates to the number of children Raunigk has conceived. But let's stick to the main issues.
First, she likely will not live long enough to raise her current children, much less any new kids. It is not fair to children, as adoption agencies know when they limit adoption to those under 55, to intentionally create a family where mom and dad will enter a nursing home as the kids enter junior high.
And save that blather about 65 being the new 55. Not when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis and blindness — one or more of which is likely to get any of us by our late 70s. Making kids you cannot parent is just not fair to the kids.
Making four kids in a 65-year-old body also is irresponsible. The quadruplets are likely to be premature and, if they survive, may pay a steep price for this decision in terms of their health. Her older body makes the pregnancy extremely high risk all the way around. There will be a C-section, which is dangerous for her. And there certainly will be no breast-feeding by mom.
In short, the health hazards that come with carrying four fetuses to term at 21 are big. At 65, Raunigk seems to have entered a world of indifference as to what is likely to happen to her four babies.
And what clinic would agree to accept as a patient a woman with 13 children — simply because her daughter wants a sibling? What clinic would not insist on a surrogate mom? What clinic would not demand she stay nearby during the pregnancy? What clinic would even let her try to deliver four fetuses?
The answer: One looking to gain fame and clients by engaging in a publicity stunt with nascent lives.
Then again, this theoretically could have happened as well in the U.S. where there are no restrictions about who can use technology to have a baby — grandparents, mentally ill, very old single parents, even child molesters.
Despite the headlines babbling about "miracles" and "gifts," and despite Annegret Raunigk’s insistence that she should be free to reproduce however and whenever she wants, what's needed is a far more thoughtful, moral stance to govern reproductive technology.
If you put yourself at high risk, your fetuses at very high risk. If you cannot fully parent four babies with potential disabilities, it is hard to take seriously the view that because technology allows for reproduction at any age — even after you are dead — the only ethical rule that matters is reproducing whenever you want, if you can afford it.
Arthur L. Caplan, Ph.D., is the Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor and founding head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center. He is the author or editor of 32 books, most recently "Contemporary Debates in Bioethics" and "Ethics in Mental Healthcare: A Reader."