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Notebook Medicine

Deadly drugs

(Ryan and Brianna Morrison meet their daughter Lucia for the first time on June 11)


Deadly drugs

Babies' deaths raise debate about fertility treatments

Sextuplets Bennet, Tryg, Lincoln, Cadence, Lucia, and Sylas Morrison were famous before they were born. The Minneapolis CBS news affiliate created a web page where viewers could follow their mother's pregnancy, watch interviews, and even view her ultrasound photo. Parents Ryan and Brianna Morrison also had their own internet site, as well as a nonprofit organization called "Morrison Multiples Corporation" that collected donations for the family.

Twenty-two weeks into the pregnancy, the Morrisons went from being a local human-interest story to a national spectacle when the deaths of four of the babies followed their extremely premature births on June 10. The surprise of seeing a multiple-birth story turn from entertainment to tragedy led onlookers to try to place blame for the unhappy ending. Pro-aborts have criticized the Morrisons for not "selectively reducing," a.k.a. killing in utero, some of the babies early in the pregnancy.

Others have blamed medicine, saying today's fertility treatments are both too risky and too tempting for desperate couples. The infant mortality rate of twins and other multiples is more than five times higher than that of single births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite the added risk, births of triplets and higher-numbered multiples in the United States have quintupled in number since the advent of fertility drugs in 1980. Since then, prime-time specials featuring siblings such as the Dilley sextuplets have brought mega-multiples into the mainstream. Triplets and quadruplets now seem commonplace.

The Morrisons, both children of pastors, met at Bethany College of Missions in Minneapolis. They married in 2005. After struggling with infertility, they conceived with the help of the ovulation-inducing drug Follistim. They said that they knew the risks-but nothing prepared them for the shock of finding out Brianna Morrison was pregnant with sextuplets.

"Brianna sobbed quietly on the exam table, and I, playing the part of the strong husband, told her that everything was going to be OK," Ryan Morrison wrote in an online journal entry. "The truth is that I had never been so overwhelmed."

The Morrisons refused doctors' advice to abort some of the babies to give the remaining children a better chance of survival. "We understand that the risk is high, but we also understand that these little ones are much more than six fetuses," Ryan Morrison wrote before the babies' births. "Each one of them is a miracle given to us by God."

Sign up or pay up

A law requiring residents of Massachusetts to have health insurance just took effect, but an estimated 160,000 people remained uninsured after the deadline. By July 1, the state expected anyone without health insurance to have taken advantage of one of three options: Medicaid, state-subsidized insurance, or private plans, depending on a family's income.

The deadline was really more of a guideline; residents have until the end of the year to get insurance. Anyone who fails to do so will face an income tax penalty of around $220 next year. The state estimates that 130,000 individuals have signed up for either Medicaid or the state subsidies. Most of the remaining uninsured people, many of them healthy young adults, do not qualify for the state-sponsored plans but also do not want to pay for private insurance.

First fruits

A study of about 241,000 IQ test results found that first-born children on average scored 2.8 points higher than second-born children and four points higher than third-born children.

The study analyzed the IQs of Norwegian men who took intelligence tests for military conscription. The study was published in the June 22 issue of Science. The scientists adjusted their data to account for other factors that affect intelligence, including parents' education levels, the number of children in a family, and the age of the children's mothers.

The scientists based their analyses on the average score of each birth group, so within individual families, younger children could have had higher IQs than their older siblings. Another finding of the study added a layer to the nature-versus-nurture debate. Children born after the death of an oldest sibling had the same IQ advantage as true first-borns. That fact suggests that family environment, not biology, causes birth-order differences between children.