Health Buzz: Octomom Didn't Know She Was Part of Fertility Study, Official Says

Plus, delving into the mysteries of unexplained infertility.

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Octomom Nadya Suleman Was "Human Guinea Pig," Official Says

Nadya Suleman, dubbed Octomom after giving birth to octuplets in 2009, was implanted with 12 embryos as part of a fertility study exploring a new implantation technique, according to testimony Thursday from Michael Kamrava, the California-based doctor who may lose his medical license over the incident. Kamrava testified that Suleman knew she was part of a study, the Los Angeles Times reports. "She heard about it and volunteered," he said. But Deputy Attorney General Judith Alvarado disagreed, asking Kamrava where in writing Suleman indicated she'd consented to be used as a "human guinea pig." Kamrava eventually conceded that his forms did not spell out to Suleman that she would be part of a study. "This doctor was doing investigational studies on human subjects without giving them a true informed consent," Alvarado said, according to the Times. Thursday marked the trial's last day, and Administrative Law Judge Daniel Juarez will soon give his opinion to California's state medical board, which renders the final decision on Kamrava's license. Kamrava is also accused of negligence in cases where a 48-year-old suffered complications after becoming pregnant with quadruplets and a 42-year-old was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after getting fertility treatments, the Times reports. Kamrava's lawyer says Kamrava's actions do not merit a revocation of his license, the Times reports.

Much is still unknown about what it takes to achieve a successful pregnancy; in fact, for one third of couples who can't get pregnant after a year of trying, there's no apparent medical explanation. writes U.S. News's Deborah Kotz.

From: Delving Into the Mysteries of Unexplained Infertility

A 2008 study, published in the British Medical Journal, randomly assigned some women with unexplained infertility to take the ovulation-stimulating drug clomiphene citrate (Clomid) and others to undergo artificial insemination. A third group of such women just went for regular doctor visits. In the end, all three groups had the same likelihood of giving birth to a child.

What's shocking, though, is how common it is for infertile women to be given treatments that haven't been rigorously tested for effectiveness. "As a direct result of lack of evidence, many couples with unexplained infertility endure [and even request] expensive, potentially hazardous, and often unnecessary treatments," reproductive medicine specialists Tarek El-Toukhy and Yacoub Khalaf wrote in an editorial that appeared in BMJ. Clomid, for example, increases the risk of twins and triplets and could potentially increase the risk of ovarian cancer in those who take it for several months.

And while it's certainly understandable for doctors to recommend less invasive and cheaper methods before in vitro fertilization (which costs upwards of $12,000 per cycle), they may be doing women a huge disservice. Those under 35 could be better off trying to get pregnant on their own—at least for a few more months—while older women may want to avoid wasting precious time and head straight to IVF or adoption.

Even when infertility has an explainable cause, treating it is sometimes more art than science. I speak from personal experience, having always had extremely irregular periods—on average twice a year—due to polycystic ovarian syndrome. I was told my chances of getting pregnant on my own were slim. When my husband and I decided to have a baby, my doctor prescribed Clomid to induce ovulation. First, as part of standard protocol, I had to take a progesterone pill, Provera; somehow, I'd become pregnant. My doctor scratched her head and said it must be a coincidence, since Provera isn't supposed to induce ovulation. I took her word for it until I got pregnant with my second child—once again, after taking Provera to prepare for a cycle of Clomid.

A friend of mine has a similar story of getting pregnant when she wasn't supposed to. At age 40, she'd forked over thousands of dollars on IVF treatments before being told that her hormone levels indicated that her eggs were too old to make healthy embryos. She searched around on the Internet and found a doctor in New Jersey willing to work with "long-shot" patients. She took a chance because, in her heart, she didn't feel like she was ready to give up trying. She told me this as we sat in her backyard observing the results of her gut decision: Her blond, 5-year-old twins streaked by, chasing each other in a game of tag.