“Reduction to a singleton”
Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine had as its cover story an article about the ethics of a woman’s choosing to abort one of the twins she is carrying. The procedure is called “reduction to a singleton,” and, we are told, “is usually performed around Week 12 of a pregnancy [and] involves a fatal injection of potassium chloride into the fetal chest. The dead fetus shrivels over time and remains in the womb until delivery.” As for choosing which child to eliminate,
…if both appear healthy (which is typical with twins), doctors aim for whichever one is easier to reach. If both are equally accessible, the decision of who lives and who dies is random. To the relief of patients, it’s the doctor who chooses — with one exception. If the fetuses are different sexes, some doctors ask the parents which one they want to keep.”
One woman cited chose to keep the girl because she already had a boy.
One doctor, who changed his mind on the ethics of the procedure, spoke of a “juncture in the cultural evolution of human understanding of twins.” “Ethics,” he said, “evolve with technology.” Another doctor had this:
“In a society where women can terminate a single pregnancy for any reason — financial, social, emotional — if we have a way to reduce a twin pregnancy with very little risk, isn’t it legitimate to offer that service to women with twins who want to reduce to a singleton?”
One woman offered this in explanation:
“Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure,” she said later. “If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”
Many doctors who perform the procedure in other cases draw the line at eliminating one of the twins. All but one of the women who had the procedure done insisted on anonymity.