A 62-year-old Tasmanian woman who successfully underwent IVF overseas before giving birth in Australia has raised a range of ethical and legal issues over her actions.
The unnamed woman gave birth to a daughter at Melbourne’s Frances Perry House Private Hospital on Tuesday. The baby was born two weeks premature via caesarean section.
And while there is no legal barrier to an older woman accessing IVF, and there is no doubt the pair had the freedom to pursue parenthood, medical experts have raised serious concerns over the health risks the woman put herself under and the future of her daughter.
— AMA President (@amapresident) August 2, 2016
Australian Medical Association President Dr Michael Gannon – an obstetrician and gynaecologist – branded the new parents as “selfish” on Twitter.
“Child starts life in NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit]. Anyone thought ahead to its teens? Selfish, wrong,” he wrote.
Dr Gannon also highlighted the risks for the obstetricians delivering the baby, the high risks of the birth to the baby and mother and the fact the “parenting [is] hard enough at 30yo”.
— AMA President (@amapresident) August 3, 2016
Should it even be legal?
While Melbourne’s Monash IVF clinic has a cut-off age of 53 for patients, Victorian reproduction specialist Dr Lynn Burmeister told the ABC there was no legal barrier to prevent older woman undergoing the treatment.
Dr Burmeister said there was nothing to prevent women from travelling overseas to access the treatment.
“[Fifty-three] is the natural age of menopause, so we’ve made a cut-off at that point, but there’s actually no legal cut-off,” she said.
“So patients can access fertility treatment overseas; they will find clinics that will treat patients at this age.”
— AMA President (@amapresident) August 3, 2016
Dr Andrew Pesce, a former AMA president and obstetrician and gynaecologist in Sydney, advocated an official age limit for IVF.
“It helps in your counselling of people who are very desperate, who are very vulnerable who may insist on saying, ‘I know you’re telling me I have no realistic chance of getting pregnant … but I still want to do it’,” he told ABC.
The number of Australian women over 40 undergoing fertility treatment has almost tripled in the past decade.
“It would help clinicians to say ‘I’m sorry. Even though I feel very sorry for you … I can’t because I’m not allowed to’. And I think that would be a good thing.”
What are the risks?
Dr Pesce said there was no real data on the risks of women having babies in their 60s because “very, very few women that age have ever been pregnant”.
“We know that as women get older they run the risk of increasing complications in pregnancy, even in the 40s age group,” he said.
Just because we can achieve a pregnancy with the help of medical technology, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the right thing
Former AMA president Dr Andrew Pesce
“I can’t second guess the individual circumstances of this particular family, but I can understand why people do look at the age and say there’s a reason why in nature that you can’t get pregnant,” Dr Pesce said.
Dr Burmeister said there were risks involved with having children later in life, adding that parents should consider the baby’s welfare.
“My issue is mainly based on that child and the welfare of that child being born to an older parent and the longevity of the parents,” she said.
“So this baby might have parents that are alive for the next 20 years, and hopefully become an adult and be able to look after themselves.
“But I suppose as a baby, if something does happen to the parents before that time, have the parents got enough support structures around them to bring that baby up?”
She said older women still accounted for a small percentage of those seeking IVF treatment so there was no need to change fertility assistance legislation in Australia.
Where’s the privacy?
While those in the medical profession focused on how ill-advised it was for a woman to give birth in her 60s, journalist and academic Jenna Price had a very different stance.
“I think she’s got a right to have a baby at 62,” Ms Price said in an interview on Wednesday night’s The Project.
“I have a couple of questions, first of all, how we know about the fact that she’s got the baby at 62,” she said. “I think that is an enormous breech of her privacy.”
Ms Price also alluded to double standards between ageing mothers and ageing fathers,
“I think we never hear about anyone questioning men when they are having babies in their old age,” she said.
“People were so enthusiastic about Mick Jagger, they were giving him an elbow and congratulating him for being an old guy with a baby. No one is blinking and he is a hell of a lot older than this 62-year-old.”