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The Ethics Of Multiple Births

Fertility drugs made it possible for Nkem Chukwa to give birth on Sunday at a hospital in Texas. Amazingly, the formerly childless woman and her husband, Iyke, now have eight newborn babies.

Just over a year ago, we heard about the birth in Iowa of septuplets to Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey.

In both cases, fertility drugs are used to stimulate the ovaries to produce more than one egg. The goal is not to get the ovaries to produce eight eggs, as happened in this case, but maybe just one and at times two. CBS News Medical Correspondent Emily Senay reports on the ethical issue.

In the minds of some people, there is a question of whether there should be some monitoring early on in the process of women who use fertility drugs in order to prevent what is known as "high order multiples."

Arthur Kaplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, says he was disturbed to learn about the birth of the octuplets. "When you have children this small, there is a high danger we'll see some die and some will wind up with disability. And the cost is huge," Kaplan says.

Even before a woman becomes pregnant, doctors can monitor the process, watching to see how many eggs have been stimulated. If they observe "hyper-stimulation," they can move to avoid the pregnancy, waiting until another cycle or, later on, they can reduce the number of fetuses.

That's not what anyone wants to do, but in some cases women do it when they are facing the prospect of high order multiples. It allows one or two babies a better chance of survival than eight, or seven, or however many the case may be.

The fact is, a high order multiple birth is an incredibly risky adventure for both the babies and their mother.

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