January 6, 2010

Octo-Doc and the Baby Mill

Just when I thought it was safe to go back into the water.  Just when I assumed it was over, and I wouldn’t be assaulted with this nonsense again…here we go.

This month will mark the first birthday of Octo-mom Nadya Suleman’s children, and she’s enjoying her second Warholian fifteen minutes of fame.  Dr. Michael Kamrava, the miracle worker who masterfully implanted all those embryos, now faces the fight of his life.

On Monday, the California Medical Board formally accused Dr. Kamrava of three counts of gross negligence: transferring too many embryos, repeatedly transferring fresh embryos when frozen ones were available and failing to refer his patient for a mental health evaluation.  After all, what sane woman would ever ask for eight new children when she already has six?

It’s in no one’s interest to saddle an unemployed single woman with such a burden.  It makes for a dangerously crowded womb when so many tiny bodies have to compete for air and nutrition at once.  Plus, it’s extraordinarily taxing on the body of the mother herself, who will have to rise quickly from that OB ward to care for them while simultaneously facing a long convalescence of her own.  And as a taxpayer here in California, it offends me that I have been called upon to pick up a huge portion of the tab.  Suleman and Kamrava picked my pocket, and I had no say in the matter.  I fully expect the family to remain on my payroll for many years to come.

Suddenly I’m reminded of Dr. Gregory House, the genius diagnostician of Princeton-Plainsboro Hospital in the popular Fox TV series.  He’s the go-to guy when no one else can figure out what’s wrong.  The secret to his success?  For Dr. House it’s all about the science, the thrill of the chase, the challenge of solving a puzzle and beating the clock.  His patients are but bundles of protoplasm, a collection of organs, fluids, and tissues waiting to be analyzed.  He can’t be bothered with caring about the person, the human soul under his care.

The business of placing babies into childless homes, I’m convinced, is God’s work.  Nothing else can ever bring such joy to a family, than to see the next generation.  And nothing else can ever bring such anguish into that family, as the crushing disappointment of continued barrenness.  Those who feel called to help fill that void take unto themselves a huge responsibility, whether by fostering or adoption or scientific experimentation.

When Ms. Suleman came calling, it would seem that Dr. Kamrava considered it a scientific challenge.  How many embryos can we implant at once?  And how many will survive to full term?  Can we reach a new world record?  From a scientific standpoint, of course, this experiment was a smashing success and a giant leap forward in baby-making technology.

That is, as long as we count those products as mere squirming bundles of protoplasm.  As long as we see them as a file full of charts, x-rays, and test results.  Just don’t ask their names or look them in the eye, and everything will be OK.

Trouble is, this isn’t a high school chem lab.  And we’re not trying to breed a prettier show dog, or a sweeter orange, or a new vaccine for the swine flu.  We’re making little people who need to be fed and clothed and burped and wiped and powdered and cuddled and loved and bounced on Grampa's knee.  They require devoted parents to invest endless amounts of time, attention, training, and the occasional swat on the bottom.  And yes, of course, money.  Which, naturally, no one person can do alone, for fourteen little people.

While the doctor treats these babies as lab specimens, their mother seems to regard them alternately as nuisances and playthings.  She has often been seen to run off to the mall, treating herself to new clothes and a mani-pedi, while the kids are left to the hired help.  To her credit, she has had occasional moments of clarity where she publicly expressed regret for a number of poor decisions.  Yet in a recent interview, she defended Dr. Kamrava and hoped he would prevail in the Medical Board hearing.  “What am I going to do in the future if I ever want to go back?”

What, you want to go for an even twenty?  Sorry Nadya, that’s not funny.

You know it’s an upside-down world when even attorney Gloria Allred – who generally rushes to defend women at all costs in such high-profile controversies – publicly rebukes Ms. Suleman for this casual attitude.

Should Dr. Kamrava be forced to abandon his profession?  I don’t know.  Apart from this case, he might well have a distinguished career in service to his patients.  But at minimum, he must be called to account for his overzealous pursuit of medical miracles.

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