Many years ago there was a cartoon which showed a small boy looking at newly-born twins, and asking his father, “Which one are we going to keep?” At that time the cartoon was amusing. Today, in the Brave New World of 1989, it is not so funny.

A recent report from Perth, Australia, says that a mother who gave birth to quads after in-vitro fertilization had decided within a week of their home-coming from the hospital, to give away three of her babies. Public opinion was outraged. There were accusations that the parents had “taken the pick of the litter” in choosing to keep the one baby girl, and give the three boys away. (Are four babies now a “litter”?)

Granted that four tiny babies would be more than a handful, it is still difficult to understand how someone who had wanted children so badly that she had gone through the hassle of the IVF program could bear to do an “eeny, meeny, miney mo” and pick out one baby, and give the rest away.

A growing unease

Possibly in response to the public outcry, on September 15 the Western Australian government promised to introduce legislation to curb the number of fertilized ova that IVF clinics may implant in a woman. Colin Honey of Australia’s IVF Ethics Committee stated, “This case has highlighted a growing unease about multiple births.”

This unease is not new. As long ago as 1982 the British Voluntary Licensing Authority declared that the transfer of more than three embryos was unethical. That declaration, however carried no weight in law. In 1987 a couple, Neil and Susan Halton of Liverpool, England, had the tragic experience of seeing their IVF septuplets die, one the other.


A recent scholarly book published in Australia, IVF: The Critical Issues, by Anthony Fisher states, that by 1986, four or more embryos were implanted in 43 percent of cases in Australia. Even more shocking was the statement that “some units transfer as many as thirteen embryos or eggs at a time.” Thirteen? The results have been miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, selective pregnancy, reductions and premature births.

Another result is the “endurable stress” of the Perth mother, wanting children, but unable to cope with her four babies. If indeed her three baby boys (now in foster homes) are given up for final adoption, who will help her to come to terms with her feelings of inadequacy, and her pain of loss?