Let’s stipulate this much: Few people if any admire Nadya Suleman, the single "Octomom" who chose to give birth to octuplets via in vitro fertilization, after having already had six kids.
The story includes a house purchased and then lost for non-payment, welfare dependence, stints as a porn performer and, now, possible welfare fraud for alleged failure to report $30,000 in outside income. Suleman is living with her 14 children in Lancaster.
It’s not as though she and her children have been luxuriating in wealth while taxpayers pick up the bill. According to The Times' story, she’s accused of illegally receiving $6,667 from the CalWorks financial assistance program and $9,814 from the CalFresh food aid program during the first six months of 2013. It’s hard to see how she gets by with all those kids, even if you add $30,000 to the mix.
The public backlash against Suleman is easy to understand. It feels like an insult to parents who carefully weigh how much time and financial support they can give their children, when deciding how many to have. It feels like an injustice to people who engage in responsible decision-making so that they try to avoid being a burden on society.
The question is, what can society really do about these cases? Some people suggest forced sterilization; that’s a route we shouldn’t go down. Fortunately for us all, people like Suleman are rare, and though we might disapprove of her and feel justifiably angry about the burden she places on taxpayers, it’s more frightening to think of where the slippery slope might lead once we start deciding who is allowed to have children. Besides, the octuplets are already out of the barn, so to speak.
Others suggest withdrawing all public support, or taking the children away from Suleman and putting them up for adoption. But if Suleman is a loving and fairly responsible mother to her children — and for all her outrageous oddness, none of us can claim to know what kind of mother she is — it seems that she should have the right to keep them. In addition, staying with their mother might be the better future for them. Adoption of older children — the octuplets, the youngest of the brood, turn 5 this month — is a chancy thing. And are they better off in foster care — which is, by the way, an expensive proposition all its own — while awaiting adoption?
Suleman herself may be deserving of nothing, but her children didn’t create any of this mess. They need to be fed, and while this might rile our taxpaying sensibilities to the core, it’s society’s job to make sure that innocent children are fed.
The question for authorities — and perhaps a jury to decide now — is whether Suleman has broken the law, and if so, whether she should be jailed. And here we’re stuck again. If Suleman is incarcerated, the disruption to her children would be extraordinary. Who would care for them during that time? At what expense? Yet if she did indeed break the rules, what message do we send by saying women with a lot of children don’t have to face the consequences of their actions?
Either way, society pays. Our basic sense of fairness to children demands it.