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Monday, 18 September, 2000, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
Second Italian octuplet dies
Graphic showing baby in incubator and drugs
Two out of eight premature babies born to an Italian woman have died in a Milan hospital.

The first of the octuplets, a girl, was born naturally last Wednesday, as was a boy born on Sunday. Doctors decided to carry out a Caesarian operation on Sunday night to deliver the remaining six.

Two of the six tiny babies - a boy and a girl - died shortly after their delivery by Caesarian.

Quintuplets in Cairo hospital
A mother gave birth to quintuplets in Egypt in July
The 31-year-old Sicilian mother, Marinella Mazzara, had taken fertility drugs and was in only the 25th week of pregnancy, leaving the babies at high risk because vital organs and the central nervous system had not sufficiently developed.

A full-term pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks - doctors had hoped to delay complete delivery for about two more weeks, to give the foetuses more time to develop.

A spokeswoman at Milan's Niguarda Hospital said the six surviving babies, weighing about 500 grams (1.1 pounds) each, were "relatively well" in intensive care. They will remain under observation in hospital for several months.

There are two boys and four girls - Michele, Girolamo, Margherita, Rosa Maria, Marta and Connie.

Controversy

The pregnancy triggered a heated debate in Italy, with some experts criticising the use of fertility drugs, which can lead to multiple pregnancies.

The Italian Health Minister, Umberto Veronesi, criticised the fertility treatment, saying "insemination was done too early" and hormone treatment had not been followed up properly.

Mrs Mazzara, a housewife from the small rural town of Ballata in Sicily, turned to fertility drugs after trying with her husband for six years to have a child.

She is reported to have been encouraged by doctors in Sicily to terminate several of the pregnancies from the outset, but refused.

The largest multiple birth on record is nine babies born in Sydney in 1971, but none lived beyond six days.

In December 1999 a US family in Houston, Texas, celebrated the first birthday of seven survivors of what had been octuplets. The septuplets were also conceived through fertility treatment, and also born three months premature.

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See also:

28 Feb 00 | Health
Sperm boost may aid fertility
07 Jan 99 | Americas
Surviving octuplets off ventilators
21 Dec 98 | Medical notes
Multiple births and fertility treatment
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