USC Fertility


Octuplet Birth: Did the Fertility Clinic Act Improperly?

Octuplet birth brings attention to importance of choosing a doctor you can trust.

In the wake of the recent octuplet birth and subsequent media frenzy, the latest point of focus to emerge is the fertility clinic that assisted the mother with the pregnancy. In a televised interview with NBC, octuplet mom Nadya Suleman revealed the Beverly Hills fertility clinic that she alleges helped her with all of her in vitro fertilization procedures, including the one that resulted in the octuplets’ birth.

It has been just too bizarre. I must admit that I initially refused to believe that this was some sort of misbehavior on the part of the clinic. I have seen too many cases in which the truth turned out to be very different from the initial impression, and have therefore urged caution in condemning the clinic and the doctor in this case.

After all, there can be extenuating circumstances which could explain all of this. Maybe there was a new relationship, maybe the patient did not disclose all of her history to the doctor, maybe this was a truly poor prognosis situation, etc. But no, there is no new relationship for the mom, she is using the same sperm donor for all of the pregnancies. And the doctor knew the whole history, since he has been there for all the pregnancies. And this is NOT a poor prognosis situation, this is someone who has been pregnant from IVF 5 times previously, including a set or twins!

It looks bad. Of course, we still don’t know all of the details, and they may never come out, (although they will be discovered by the Medical Board, which is investigating). But as the story has unfolded, each turn has looked worse than the previous one. It seems very unlikely that “extenuating circumstances” will be found that could possibly justify transferring a large number of embryos to this patient. The official version from the patient is that 6 embryos were transferred, but this number has not yet been verified, and it certainly could have been more.

This puts us doctors into a bad situation. It is time to do something. For years, we have been saying that we don’t want regulation, that we can police ourselves. So now’s the time. How are we going to do it? What sanctions can we impose? Can we subpoena the chart and get to the bottom of it?

At present, the only path is via the Medical Board of California. I have reviewed cases for them in the past. This is a good agency, and the people that work there are sincerely interested in getting to the truth, and not to create a media event. The agency does its work without media scrutiny. I have every faith that justice will be served. My only concern is that the agency, like many others in the state, is under-funded and under-staffed. But it is the correct path to doctors’ self-discipline.

How does all of this help patients choose the right kind of doctor? Looking on the Medical Board website can help. The other way is to look for board certification. The doctor who produced the octuplets is not board certified in Reproductive Endocrinology. Neither is the doctor advertising “designer babies”. Nor are the doctors who are offering quick fixes and spectacular advances, presented only on their Web sites.

Avoiding doctors who are not board certified in the subspecialty that they practice is a very good idea. It’s probably not a perfect system, but it works very well.

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