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The world’s first surviving septuplets get ready to part ways


NBC The Today Show

John Burger - published on 05/25/16

Carlisle, Iowa, high school graduates the Seven McCaugheys.

They’ve been together for some 18 and a half years—plus time in utero, of course.

Now, for the first time, the Iowa septuplets born in November 1997 to Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey are getting ready to go their separate ways.

Alexis, Brandon, Joel, Kelsey, Kenny, Natalie and Nathan McCaughey (pronounced McCoy), the first surviving septuplets in the world, graduated from Carlisle High School outside of Des Moines on Sunday, the Des Moines Register reported.

NBC The Today Show

For Bobbi and Kenny, it will be empty nest syndrome to the seventh power. Or eighth, if you consider their first daughter, Mikayla, who got married last year and is already living on her own.

At birth, there was a massive outpouring of offers to help out. The seven were all offered a free college education at Hannibal-LaGrange University in Missouri. It’s likely that five of them will take the college up on the offer, while Kenny Jr. is headed for Des Moines Area Community College to study in the building trades, and Brandon sticks to the goal he announced to reporters at age 3 — serving his country in the Army, the Register said.

“I’m already sworn in. All I have to do is stay in shape, not do anything bad, then go into basic,” Brandon told the paper. “I knew that I was always inspired by my uncle Jason when he was in Afghanistan a long time ago.”

Their birth had garnered worldwide attention, of course, but also fostered debate over the parents’ choices. Having had trouble conceiving again after the birth of her first child two years earlier, Bobbi McCaughey took the fertility drug Pergonal, which induces a woman to produce more than the usual one egg per cycle, The New York Times reported back in 1997:

The McCaugheys were told early in the pregnancy that aborting some of the fetuses, or selective reduction, would increase the chance of survival for the others. But they said their religious beliefs would not allow any abortion.

”God gave us those kids,” Mr. McCaughey, 27, a billing clerk at an auto dealership, said last month. ”He wants us to raise them.” …

Ethicists said the case of the McCaughey septuplets raised several of medicine’s hardest questions.

First, is it appropriate to use technology to create life? Some, including Pope John Paul II, have taken a moral stand against fertility drugs, particularly because multiple fetuses often result, and many are likely to be stillborn or to die soon after birth.

Others question the ethics on the basis of resource allocation: should society spend so much money so one family can have a child?

Even tougher are the questions raised by a conundrum of multiple births. If some of the fetuses are not aborted, all could die or could be born so small that they might not survive. So is it appropriate to use technology to end life, especially life created by technology?

”Some people see a duty not to kill,” said Jennifer A. McCrickerd, an assistant professor of philosophy who teaches biomedical ethics at Drake University in Des Moines. ”Others see a duty to save as many as you can.”

All has turned out well, so far, for the McCaugheys. They bet correctly.

“It strikes me as a miracle”

The children, born by cesarean section, ranged in weight from 3 pounds, 4 ounces to to 2 pounds, 5 ounces.

”All the babies were so well-grown, so well-developed, it just strikes me as a miracle,” said Dr. Paula Mahone, one of the doctors who helped perform the delivery at Iowa Methodist Medical Center. Mahone said the first baby — also the heaviest — was nicknamed Hercules because he ”held all the others up” in a pyramid formation in the womb.

Dad Kenny used the initial fame to give speeches with a spiritual message, but he eventually returned to his longtime job for a metal coating company in Des Moines. Bobbi works as a para-educator for special-needs children.

Nathan and Alexis, born with cerebral palsy, courageously battle through limitations, the Des Moines Register added. Nathan said he worked hard day after day, to teach himself to walk on his own.

“I walk every day,” Nathan said. “It’s sort of like practicing on a daily basis. I didn’t know how to walk, so I taught myself how to walk because I really wanted to learn. I’ve just been practicing every day, and it’s just been getting better and better.”

Alexis still uses a walker, but it hasn’t stopped her. She was the school cheerleading squad’s co-captain, the paper added.

Certainly, no family is without struggles and tensions. But all of the septuplets say that their siblings are their best friends, and the parting will be difficult, the Register said. They always had someone there who really knew them, someone to lean on.

View the Today show interview here.

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