Marisol Barreiro and her husband, Carlos, treasure their six children. They say they cannot imagine life without their 10-year-old daughter, Soleemar, and 5-year-old quintuplets, Daron, Emealis, Jomar, Lysmarie and Zoraelis.
Yet their lives could have been radically different if they had taken advantage of a "selective reduction" procedure that was presented to them when they learned they were expecting quintuplets.
The procedure would have eliminated one or more of the embryos in Marisol Barreiro’s womb, ostensibly to increase the odds of survival for the remaining babies. But the Barreiros said they never considered this option because they’re firmly opposed to abortion. It scares them to think how different their lives might be if they didn’t have such strong pro-life leanings.
"My husband and I were talking about it actually the other day," Marisol Barreiro said. "What child that we have now wouldn’t be here today?"
The notion is painful even to contemplate, she said, and she doesn’t understand how some people can choose to kill one of their unborn children without always wondering what that child would be like.
Although still relatively rare, the practice of selective reduction is becoming more common, according to an Aug. 10 article in the New York Times Magazine. And embryo reduction has been a product of in-vitro fertilization for at least five years, noted Jann Armantrout, life-issues coordinator for the Diocese of Rochester. At first it was mainly practiced to increase the remaining babies’ odds of survival or avoid delivering babies with birth defects, she said. More recently, however, parents are choosing this practice if they don’t feel willing or able to take on the demands of caring for multiple births.
Doctors "reduce" the number of embryos in a woman’s womb by injecting a fatal dose of potassium chloride into the hearts of the unwanted embryos, according to an Aug. 19 article by Susan Wills, assistant director for education and outreach for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. Catholic morality clearly sees such an action as intrinsically evil, she wrote.
"There is no real dilemma here, once we understand what abortion — including reduction — really entails," Wills wrote. "Part of the evil practiced by the (in-vitro fertilization) industry is to desensitize parents into losing sight of this."
Indeed, one of the mothers interviewed in the New York Times Magazine article said she probably wouldn’t have chosen to reduce the number of babies she was carrying from two to one if she had conceived naturally rather than through in-vitro fertilization. "We created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice," she told the magazine. "The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control."
In-vitro fertilization and the issues surrounding it have always been perched on a moral precipice, Armantrout said, noting that science has outpaced ethics. The first successful conception through in-vitro fertilization took place without the guidance of an ethics committee, and there still are no rules and regulations governing the industry. What was originally billed as "happily married couples’ last-ditch effort" to have biological children has slid down a steep ethical slope, she added.
"What we read in that New York Times article is a far cry from that," Armantrout said, noting that children conceived this way are almost seen as material goods rather than gifts from God. "It presents a culture of selfishness that perceives children as mere commodities to be produced without regard for implications for that child."
Those implications are serious, she said, and the surviving siblings of children aborted through selective reduction likely will experience survivors’ guilt and lasting fear.
"The individual child is going to grow up knowing that Mommy got rid of another child who didn’t please her. That this sort of practice is allowed is stunning to me," Armantrout said.
The practice is repugnant even to some people who hold pro-choice beliefs, probably because it forces people to take a hard look at the reality of abortion, she said.
"I think that most people justify a pro-choice stance out of a sense of compassion, albeit misplaced. Pro-choice abortion is sold with images of tragic pregnancies and compromised motherhood," Armantrout said.
The stereotypical circumstances surrounding abortion are turned on their head, however, when a couple who has gone to great and often costly lengths to conceive children through in-vitro fertilization decides to eliminate one or more of the embryos in the woman’s womb, she said.
"Suddenly the reality is bumping up against their preconceptions (of abortion)," Armantrout said. "I think that it calls people to consider the values that they are supporting."