Thursday, July 24, 2008

Who Controls Your Fertility

A lesbian couple in Canaberra, Sydney went to see Dr. Robert Armellin for IVF.  They specifically requested the implantation of one fertilized egg, and the doctor took it upon himself to implant two eggs.  The end result is that now the two women are raising twin girls.  In an attempt to mediate some of the financial burden, and emotional strain that raising two children instead of one would cause they filed suit against their doctor.  The couple sought $389,000 which included the cost of private education for one of the girls.  Today  The ACT Supreme Court ruled in favour of Dr Armellin, and ordered the couple pay his legal costs.

I take issue with the courts decision.  The women in question specifically told the doctor that they only wished to be implanted with one egg and by not honouring their request he committed a grievous act against them.  Not only should he be financially responsible for the cost of raising this child until she reaches the age of maturity, he should be brought before a board of medical review.

Since the medical establishment has taken on fertility and reproduction through the vilification of the midwife, they have acted with callous disregard to womens interests and desires.  If a woman cannot rightly assure that her wishes in regard to reproduction will be honoured, how can we claim any degree of autonomy? Dr Armellin is the de facto "parent" of  one these of these girls, as she would not be alive had he chosen to respect the wishes of his patient.  A Doctor should not be able to unilaterally decide an issue that will bind a woman legally for 18 years, and emotionally for a lifetime.

This case further supports the idea that we as women do not have a right to control our own fertility.  There is a direct relation between this incident and the reduced access to birth control, and abortion.  When women have children their ability to function in the public sphere is greatly reduced and this effects the degree to which they come under "patriarchal control".  What is at stake is more than fertility rights, what is at stake is personal autonomy and agency.  If we cannot be freed from the responsibility of our wombs we will forever live under the rule of thumb.


panamaican said...

I'm just a commenting fool today! This has nothing to do with women's fertitility rights. It's the case of a medical mistake and poorly argued legal case. The women in question signed a consent form allowing up to two eggs to be implanted. They did not state their request for just one egg until minutes before the the opertation began. I'm not a doctor but I would imagine it's pretty difficult to alter such a procedure with such late notice. Let's assume for a minute that the doctor could have, and should have, aborted the procedure for another day. Then the couple should have presented a legal argument centered solely around the financial burden created by the doctor's mistake. They didn't. Instead, the basis for their argument seems to be that two children interefered with their personal relationships at a level that exceeded the interference from one child. I'm not an Australian lawyer and I don't know their law but that's not an argument that can be satisfied by money. They could have mitigated their losses by putting one daughter up for adoption. They could have aborted both children and demanded that the doctor re-do the procedure. They didn't have to wait until after they carried both children to term and decided to raise both children to make their complaint. Their actions indicated a willingness to raise and care for two children. They essentially adopted the second child and now want the "original father" to support her. It's bad lawyering, and to a lesser extent bad medicine, not an assault on women's rights.

Renee said...
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Renee said...

@Panomaican This has nothing to do with women's fertitility rights. It's the case of a medical mistake

So the fact that this is about IVF should just be ignored...that is about fertility further what he did was a violation...look at it from this point of view of a man and a woman are having sex and she stop and continues that is rape. In this example she may have signed consent but she verbally changed her mind prior to the procedure being done. He had an obligation to honor her right to control what is inserted in her body.

Yoo said...

Do doctors have sufficient control over IVF to guarantee the implantation of only one egg? If not, and there are expected to be a small percentage of multiple inadvertently implanted eggs, then I would think the ruling was reasonable.

If the doctor deliberately planted two eggs, however, then I think he's morally very much in the wrong, regardless of the legality of the situation.

I don't know enough about IVF to have a definite opinion one way or the other, though.

Renee said...

@Yoo the egg is large enough to be viewed with the naked eye. Yes they are more than capable of only implanting one egg of that is what they choose to do.

Scott said...

I hope for the childens sake the parents keep this information to themselves. Later on in life if eith catches wind of this they are going to be scarred knowing their parents only wanted one of them. I have no problem with the parents only wanting one child, my point is, now that this case is settled, they need to foccus on both children and do the best they can.

Sandalstraps said...

...they are going to be scarred knowing their parents only wanted one of them.

Wanting only one child prior to becoming pregnant does not mean that, after giving birth to twins, you really only want one of the two actually existing, concrete children. To imply otherwise is to overlook the psychological reality of parenting.

I am a twin. I'm pretty sure that my parents didn't plan me as such, when they decided to try to conceive a child. I'm also pretty sure that, upon discovering that they were going to have twins instead of a single birth, they took a deep breath, and perhaps gulped, as they tried to muster up the strength to deal with two babies instead of one. There was no doubt some fear, some insecurity, some anxiety mixed in with the joy of new life.

It doesn't follow from that, however, that they didn't want me, or that they didn't want my twin brother. It doesn't follow from that, that when confronted with two living, breathing human beings wholly dependent on their care, in that moment they would - if they could - give one of us back.

A good friend of mine recently had baby, less than a year after he and his wife declared to anyone who would listen that they'd be happy if they never had children. They weren't trying to conceive. In fact, save abstaining from sex, they were trying very hard not to conceive. Yet they conceived, and gave birth to a healthy girl.

Does it follow from this that, now that they have this beautiful daughter, they don't really love her, don't really want her? Of course not.

My wife was an "accident." Most who first heard of her, when her mother became pregnant, would have even considered her a mistake. Her mother has no idea who the father is, and even seriously considered having an abortion, before finally (and with a little reluctance, I'm told) deciding to carry to term and give birth.

Does it follow from this that, after entering this world, after drawing her first independent breaths, and after meeting her mother's gaze as she (the mother) contemplated the mystery of life staring into the face of her newborn daughter, that my wife was not welcome, not wanted, not loved? Of course not.

This situation is not perfectly analogous to any of the above situations, but it shares with those situations a common theme. Parenting is complex. It is emotionally complicated, inspiring both joy and sorrow and everything in between. It is physically and fiscally demanding. Difficult work.

Parenting twins, my mother tells me, is even more difficult, even more complicated, even more demanding. To acknowledge this, and to seek recompense for an error that created two children instead of the expected one, does not mean that either of the children are unloved or unwanted, now.

Yoo said...

It suddenly occurs to me that the twins might actually be identical twins, in which case the division occurred after the doctor implanted a single egg. Annoyingly, the article doesn't say if they were identical or fraternal, so it could still be a case of malfeasance.

Yoo said...

I came across a tidbit in Scientific American about IVF, where it's explained that it's standard procedure to implant multiple embryos.

It turns out that while it's easy enough to pick out individual embryos, whether a given embryo would successfully result in a successful pregnancy is still an uncertain process, so multiple eggs are implanted to increase the chances. I guess reducing the number of eggs implanted in order to reduce the chances of a multiple pregnancy would reduce the chance of an IVF procedure succeeding to unacceptable levels.

Scott said...


I said what I said because I speak from experience. Quite a few years ago, on Christmas day, my mother said to me and everyone else that if it were not for my eldest sister I would not be here today.

I am the 5th of 5 children, my mom was in her mid 30's and my dad in his mid 40's, so I do now understand why she had those feelings. Especially when my father wasn't much around being on the road working and not really helpfull around the home when he was home. But it still bothers me from time to time that I know this info. I know this is different from what happened to these parents, but still close enough that I had to comment on it.

Renee said...

Regardless of the level of success the doctor should still have honored her request to only have one embryo implanted.