Mandy Allwood, 32, from Solihull in the West Midlands, who is 14 weeks pregnant, is the latest woman to find herself taking centre stage in the highly charged "selective termination" debate, following the recent case of a single mother who aborted one healthy twin because she could not cope with two more babies.
Yesterday Miss Allwood was lauded by the anti-abortion lobby for wishing to take all eight babies to full term.
"Wonderful! What a pro-lifer!" exclaimed Jack Scarisbrick, national chairman of the anti-abortion group Life, on hearing of Miss Allwood's reported desire to give birth to all eight babies. "There are all these surgeons sharpening their scalpels when all that needs to be done is let nature take its course. She will undoubtedly lose some of these embryos without resorting to the knife."
If Miss Allwood succeeds in giving birth to all eight babies, it will be a sensational achievement for mother and doctors alike. There is no known case of octuplets surviving more than a few days after birth. The rarity of octuplets, combined with the recent debate on selective termination, has given Miss Allwood celebrity - to which she has taken with gusto. Her story has been bought by the News of the World and she has even signed up with the PR guru Max Clifford.
Although Miss Allwood already has a five-year-old son, Charles, from a previous marriage, she went to a private clinic in the West Midlands for fertility treatment. After being given drugs to boost her fertility, she released too many eggs and was advised to abstain from sexual intercourse. It is believed she ignored the warnings.
She conceived the octuplets naturally after resuming normal sexual relations with her boyfriend, Paul Hudson.
Susan Price, chief executive of the infertility counselling charity Issue, said: "The irony is that if this woman had heeded the doctors' advice, they would have altered the doses of the drugs she was receiving and she would still have had very good chances of conceiving either a single child or twins."
The anti-abortion, pro-life lobby believes that publicity about this case can do nothing but good for its cause. "We've never had it so good," said Mr Scarisbrick, hastily adding: "We haven't generated all this." He denied reports that Life was planning to mount High Court action concerning selective abortion.
However, medical experts warn that some of Miss Allwood's foetuses may have to be aborted to improve the chances of the others surviving. Dr Robert Sawers, consultant gynaecologist at the Priory and Birmingham Maternity Hospitals, said yesterday that the only advice he could give to such a patient would be to reduce the number of foetuses. "With this situation it's most probable that none of the babies will survive unless she undertakes foetal reduction," he said.
Dr Peter Bromwich, medical director of Midland Fertility Services, said that he would be "very scared" if he was in Miss Allwood's position: "Women who are pregnant with a high number of babies rarely have all the babies alive and normal. The chances are that this woman may miscarry or is likely to go into very early labour."
He warned there was a high risk of the babies being handicapped if the mother carried too many, or if they were born too soon. "If I was the woman, I would be very scared as she will be under severe stress both physically and mentally," he said.
Mr Scarisbrick was having none of it. "That is the usual doom-and-gloom talk from the doctors," he said. "They are trying to frighten the mother. What they should be saying is: 'What a wonderful challenge to us.'
"Doctors are now so negative, defeatist and caught up with the killing that it's kill, kill, kill. What I'd like to say to them is: 'You've got nine patients - eight in the womb and the mother - and they are equally precious. If you decided to kill, on what principle will you kill? The smallest? The females? Or will it be entirely random - the one that is nearest the knife?' "
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