So whaddya do when you are assigned to cover a story about a woman who just had octuplets (that's eight, if you are counting) -- and already has six young children? This story is the consummate "hot potato"-guaranteed to arouse strong feelings among your readers (not to mention in your own mind).
So you start asking questions. Not only scientific ones, but religious and ethical ones.
But in the article published in the Los Angeles Times yesterday, it seems like a lot of those questions didn't get asked-or if they were, they were not included in the story.
OK, it's natural that the reporters would focus their lede on the brief phone interview they scored with the unidentified woman's mother:
The woman who gave birth to octuplets this week already has six young children and never expected that the fertility treatment she received would result in eight more babies, her mother said Thursday.
The woman, who has not been publicly identified, had embryos implanted last year, and "they all happened to take," Angela Suleman said, leading to the eight births Monday. "I looked at those babies. They are so tiny and so beautiful."
She acknowledged that raising 14 children is a daunting prospect.
"It's going to be difficult," Suleman added, noting that her daughter's father is going back to Iraq, where neighbors said he worked as a contractor, to help support the expanded family.
The mother of the octuplets lives on a well-kept cul-de-sac in Whittier, where more than a dozen reporters and camera crews descended Thursday.
What are we supposed to infer from the phrase "well-tended"? That we should be suprised?
Grandpa is about to put himself back in harm's way to raise money to support the newborns--that's an intriguing piece of information in itself.
Clearly the reporter didn't have a lot of time to speak to grandma. We've all been there.
But what about the doctors at Kaiser Permanente? They actually held a press conference-one would assume that there would be opportunities for more profound questions there.
Although it's not clear where the woman underwent fertility treatments, the staff at Kaiser supervised the multiple pregnancies.
We find out that:
Although the successful births at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Bellflower have received worldwide attention, they also have prompted disapproval from some medical ethicists and fertility specialists, who argue that high-number multiple births endanger the mother and also frequently lead to long-term health and developmental problems for the children.
Under the guidelines of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, U.S. doctors normally would not implant more than two embryos at a time in a woman under the age of 35. After that age it is more difficult to become pregnant. The mother of the octuplets is believed to be 33, based on available public records.
What is the mother's faith background? Did she receive secular or religious counseling when considering fertility treatments? What kind of support is she being given now?
If we judge by what's included in the article, the questions and answers seem a lot more focused on facts than ethics--althought the ethical and spiritual questions are glaring.
But a quote by one Kaiser doctor suggests, perhaps inadvertently, that doctors take a studiously neutral attitude towards multiple births:
Dr. Harold Henry, a member of the delivery team, said doctors counseled her regarding the options and risks -- among them aborting some of the fetuses.
"Our goal is to provide the best possible care, no matter what the situation or circumstances are," Henry said. "What I do is just explain the facts. I always talk about the risks. The mother weighs those options, and she chooses the option based on spiritual or personal makeup."
Though readers like me may not be clear as to the difference between "spiritual" or "personal" makeup, he does zoom in on the big piece that's missing here.
What goes into a woman and her partner/husband's decision to have fertility treatments when the family already has six young children--and carry all to term?
They have a right not to answer questions about their personal faith or morality. But it seems to me that since the media is covering this story, it has a responsibility look beyond the Ripley's-believe-it-or-not factor and to ask some of the more challenging ones.
You can be sure that readers are asking them.
Picture of babies from Wikimedia Commons