Friday, July 16, 2010

How old is too old to have a baby ?

Right now the world record for the oldest mother has been set in India and the oldest woman who has given birth is 73 ! At an age when most women have become great-grandmothers, is it sensible for a woman to want to have a child ?

Let’s explore this in more detail. Let’s suppose we decide , like some countries have done, that the age cut-off should be 45 and that women who are more than 45 should not be allowed to have IVF treatment, because they are “too old”. Then what happens if a 46 year old woman who is otherwise very healthy wants to have a baby ? Is it fair to say no to her just because she is one year past the cut off age ? Why ?

It’s quite likely that older women are going to make very good mothers. They are mature – and have spent a lot of time and energy in making this decision, which means they are likely to be thoughtful and caring parents ! While they may not have as much physical energy, they are likely to have many more financial resources ! And they are much more likely to make better parents than 14 year old unmarried girls ( who society allows to have babies , just because they are capable of doing so biologically and do not need our permission to do so !).

I agree this does raise a number of ethical issues ! Are IVF doctors being irresponsible ( in order to earn more money ) by agreeing to such requests ? Is it fair for the child ( who is likely to become an orphan at a young age, because his mother is likely to die in a few years) ? Should society lay down guidelines ( like it does for adoption ) ? Or is it a decision which the woman should make for herself ? Are we being ageist by not allowing older women to use this technique, just because we think it is “unnatural” ? Isn’t it sexist as well ? When a 70 year old man gets a 20 year old woman pregnant, society applauds his virility and manhood ! Why shouldn’t we be happy to encourage older women who want to have kids as well ? After all, this is their personal decision, and we should be happy to honour their autonomy. They are not harming anyone and if they are well off enough to afford IVF treatment with their own funds, presumably they are well off to be able to provide for the child’s well-being, even after their death. Maybe in an Indian joint family, the child will be well-cared for, whether the birthing mother is infirm or not ? One option would be to make independent counseling mandatory for older women, before they go in for donor egg or donor embryo IVF , so we can help them to make the right decision.

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