The story of the lesbian couple from Australia who are suing their fertility doctor for implanting two embryos instead of one had me wincing like a cat in a hailstorm. The women, who earn a combined income of over $100,000, want the doctor to foot the bill for the cost of raising one of the twins to the tune of $330,000, including private school tuition. Not surprisingly, the Aussie press has seized on the case, generating enough hot air to float a blimp.
At first glance, it's a simple enough malpractice lawsuit. According to news reports, which do not name the plaintiffs, the biological mother told the court that she specifically asked the doctor to implant only one embryo before undergoing the procedure. The doctor admits that the attending technician implanted two and he realized the error a few minutes later. The doctor doesn't dispute that it was a mistake; the question lies in whether he carries the responsibility for a healthy, if unwanted, multiple pregnancy.
But since Australian politicians have pushed for lesbian couples and single women to be barred from in vitro fertilization, this "wrongful life" case has spawned a larger, uglier debate about who has the right to become a parent. Vengeful lesbians acting crazy, completely bereft of natural mothering instinct!
What makes the story such good fodder for ear-steaming, mouth-frothing indignation is that these women have been whining about parenting in a way that makes you worry about not only the future of their daughters, now 3, but the firmness of their grip on reality. According to news reports, the nonbiological mother testified on the stand that having twins had damaged the women's relationship, that her partner, once "generous and loving," no longer had "the same ability to love" and, richest of all, that their lives had become mired in the mundane chores of raising children. Oy, sound familiar? The woman even complained about the psychic pain of buying a stroller: "It was like the last frontier of acceptance to spend hundreds of dollars on a pram."
The women's fitness as mothers, their sexual orientation and their financial well-being should be irrelevant to a case of medical negligence. But the fact is that the women chose not to have a selective termination or give up one girl for adoption. Unfortunately, politicians don't have to adhere to legal principles. In response to the case, Liberal senator Guy Barnett called for a ban on single women and lesbian couples accessing taxpayer-funded IVF services. Today the couple rightly defended themselves, accusing the community of double standards and arguing that their case was about patients' rights and doctors' responsibilities.
Even so, I can't help thinking about how the increasing role of medicine and technology in making children (whether it's through fertility treatments or genetic testing) puts parents in the potentially contradictory role of quality-conscious consumers.