May 04, 2006

IVF and older mothers

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The top headline on today's BBC News homepage is the story of Patricia Rashbrook, 63, who is now seven months pregnant with her fourth baby after undergoing IVF treatment abroad by controversial fertility doctor Severino Antinori.

  • Should someone have the right to have a child irrespective of their circumstances, be that age or anything else?

  • Why should the state or a doctor have the right to deny a women the chance of having a baby when she has the means and is in reasonable health?

  • Should the increased health risks of pregnancy and birthing for older women be taken into account even if the mother is determined to go ahead despite these risks? Should we also consider the increased risk of genetic disease?

  • Are the Rashbrooks putting the welfare of their child first? Or are they being selfish?

  • Is there a difference between a women who is reproductively challenged but of a childbearing age undergoing IVF and one who is post–menopausal? Is one more unnatural than the other? This concept of what is natural is difficult. Is it unnatural for us to undergo any other surgical treatment? Or take drugs?

  • Antinori defends his actions by arguing that Rashbrook has a life expectancy of at least another 20 years so she should live to see her child into adulthood. Is this a reasonable argument? Is it fair to expect the child to potentially take on the role of carer for their parents before they are an adult?

  • Antinori also argues that older people make better parents. Is this generally–held assumption true? Is it valid to say that beyond a certain point parental skills may well deteriorate, as mobility and agility decrease. If women were meant to raise children into their old age why would the menopause exist? Is there something to be said about problems of a gap of two generations rather than just one?

  • Is there more of a stigma attached to older mothers than older fathers? Why is this?

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. I apologise at the start for this long post. And I also apologise for any crappy English – It's late when I started to type this and it's going to be even later by the time I'm finished.

    1) No. With every action there is a consequence. Consequences must be considered and any appropriate action taken to counter those consequences. To have a child without consideration of the potential consequences is, in my, irresponsible.

    2) Define "reasonable health" and "has the means". The woman in question is 63, so is practically of pensionable age. I daresay the father is as well. Do Mr and Mrs Rashbrook possess the financial stability and wealth to care and provide for a baby and young child? If they have enough money to do so then that's OK, but the mother is in her 60's. Is she capable of going through the trauma of childbirth at this age?

    3) Of course we should. What sense is there in conceiving a child if there's a high chance of the mother dying in child birth? Or if there's a high chance of the child having a genetic disease?

    4) Tough one. I don't know why they want another baby, I don't know if they've got the money for another baby etc… They might be financially very secure and thought about these things. However, a young child is very active and very demanding. When the parents are around 70, the child will only be 7. The parents may now be perfectly fine, but the body is wearing out fast. At 70 their sight could be going, they could have a stroke or a heart attack or suffer from any number of serious ailments.

    5) Again another good question. I've got an argument sketched out in my head as to why someone of child bearing age but unable to conceive should have IVF, while someone post–menopausal shouldn't, however trying to get these thoughts across is proving difficult. My arguments in a crude sense would be that it is "normal" for people of a child bearing age to have children, and there's a whole host of reasons as to why a woman may not be able to conceive. However, it is not "normal" for people who are post–menopausal to be to have children.

    6) This is not a reasonable argument, unless he is a clairvoyant. No one can predict how long they have left on this Earth; much less predict how much time someone else has. To say that these parents have another good 20 years left on the clock is silly. The average life expectancy of people in the UK is around 73/75 or so? What makes the Rashbrook's any different to the average Joe/Jo? And no, I do not believe it is fair to assume that the child should assume the role of a carer. Obviously there are children in the UK that do have to perform this role, and I do not believe it is fair for them either.

    7a) Older parents certainly benefit from having more experience of life, which could potentially be passed down to the child. However, there are numerous factors which determine the parenting skill of someone. Age maybe one, but there are other factors….

    7b) … such as age and mobility. When I was younger all I wanted to do was play games and have fun in the garden. Is a 70 year old father going to be up to having a kick around in the garden with his child? Could he play cricket with his child? Similarly, could the mother do all the things a daughter might want to do? At 70, I think the answer would have to be no.

    7c) There is something to be said, but I wouldn't think about it too much.

    8) Possibly. But the hour is late and I'm starting to nod off so I think I will leave this enormous comment as it stands.

    04 May 2006, 23:23

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