“OctoMom” inspires bill to regulate fertility clinics

"OctoMom" Nadya Suleman didn't just give birth to eight babies. She's now given birth to legislation.

The bill, SB 674 from Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, would place fertility clinics and cosmetic surgery providers under the jurisdiction of the Medical Board of California for the first time. The bill was introduced on Feb. 27, a month and a day after Suleman gave birth to eight babies after seeking fertility treatments.

"It is alarming that the State of California has no one watching out for patients who go to these fertility clinics or surgical centers," Negrete McLeod said. She added: "Patients have the right to know if their physician has even been trained or board certified in the specialty he or she is attempting to perform."

Under the legislation, cosmetic and fertility clinics would face a whole new set of regulations. The Board would be charged with setting up accreditation standards, along with an inspection and reporting system for clinics that didn't live up to these standards.

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine put out voluntary guidelines for fertility clinics in 1996. However, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fewer than 20 percent of clinics follow them.

According to Negrete McLeod's staff, the bill was originally inspired by a different tabloid story, the death of the mother of rapper Kanye West. Donda West died in November, 2007, in Los Angeles due to complications for weight loss surgery. The former college professor had the surgery after being turned away by at least one surgeon, who warned she had a condition that could cause her to have a heart attack due to the tummy tuck and breast reduction procedures.

Negrete McLeod was preparing the bill to push as part of the legislative package she wanted to push as the new chair of the Senate Business and Professions Committee when the Suleman story broke. After a consultation with the Medical Board, she found that fertility clinics were also largely unregulated, which led to them being added to the bill.

Suleman's case has prompted widespread outrage. The suburban LA woman was originally celebrated in the media when she gave birth to eight live babies. She now holds the record for the longest-living octuplets in recorded history; all eight are expected to survive.

But public opinion quickly turned on her when it came to light that she was already the unwed, unemployed mother of six children, living on various forms of public subsidy, when a Los Angeles fertility clinic agreed to help her have even more children. She resides with her aging mother, who has been charged with caring for the children and is behind on her house payments. Suleman has reportedly sought payment for interviews, including a reported $ 1.3 million from television personality "Dr. Phil" McGraw.

She is also widely-reported to be obsessed with celebrity mom Angelina Jolie — ironically, to the point where she is alleged to have had plastic surgery in order to more closely resemble the actress.

"For 30 years now, assisted reproduction has develop not just into a powerful technology in new ways of creating babies, but a $3 billion business that in the us is essentially free of oversight," said Jesse Reynolds, spokesman for the Center for Genetics and Society.

California is ground zero for the industry, Reynolds said. One in seven clinics nationwide are here, with a disproportionate number located in Southern California, where Suleman lives. However, while he supports the principles behind SB 674, he said what is really needed is federal legislation, because it is very easy for prospective mothers to cross state lines. Such legislation, Reynolds said, would need to govern not just implantation but the practice of young women selling eggs and many other related procedures.

SB 674 isn't the only piece of legislation inspired by the OctoMom. In Georgia, state Senator Ralph Hudgens has introduced SB 169, whose stated purpose is to provide oversight of the fertility industry. However, this bill, sponsored by Georgia Right to Life, would do many other things as well. This includes banning embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and the sale of sperm or eggs-essentially shutting down any sperm banks operating in Georgia.

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