LONDON (CNA)—In-vitro fertilization clinics in Britain are increasingly helping women over age 55 to conceive children because there is currently no legal age limit for the treatment, according to news reports.
“Women have been expected to cram all their life tasks into 15 years between the age of 25 and 40, including having a career, finding a man and having children,” Dr. Nick Macklon, medical director of the London Women's Clinic, was quoted as saying in the Daily Mail.
“The technology we have opens that up so that they have longer. We believe an age limit for them to deliver at 54 is reasonable.”
Women are at greater risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth if they conceive after menopause, which occurs on average at age 51 for British women. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a British professional organization, recommends women have children between the ages of 20-35, and women older than 40 are considered to be at a higher risk of pregnancy complications.
Macklon said at his clinic, women over 50 are asked to confirm with an obstetrician that they are fit and healthy for pregnancy, while their medical and social circumstances are also assessed. The London Women’s Clinic has accepted 26 women aged 51 to 54 for egg donation treatment in the three years since it instituted a policy of treating women before their 55th birthday.
Dr. Marco Gaudoin, medical director for the Glasgow Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Scotland, told the Daily Mail that his clinic's maximum age of 55 for women using donor eggs was set by its ethics committee, but also that he would consider treating a 60-year-old woman if she were mentally and physically well, and would ask the ethics committee to consider the request.
Dr. Gaudoin said it was “sexist” to believe that older women could not have children, when men of the same age could.
The Catholic Church has judged IVF treatment to be immoral because it separates the act of procreation from the marital act between a husband and wife.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2008 issued instruction that laid out guidelines for treatment assisting with infertility, writing that medical techniques regarding fertility must respect the right to life and to physical integrity of every human being from conception to natural death, the unity of marriage, and the requirement that “the procreation of a human person be brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act specific to the love between spouses.’”
The CDF also noted that even in modern IVF treatments, the number of embryos sacrificed in order to achieve pregnancy remains high, and embryos with defects may be discarded altogether. Moreover, IVF disassociates procreation from the personal marital act of a husband and wife, which in itself is ethically unacceptable.
“The Church recognizes the legitimacy of the desire for a child and understands the suffering of couples struggling with problems of fertility,” the CDF wrote.
“Such a desire, however, should not override the dignity of every human life to the point of absolute supremacy. The desire for a child cannot justify the 'production' of offspring, just as the desire not to have a child cannot justify the abandonment or destruction of a child once he or she has been conceived.”
In order for there to be an age limit for IVF treatment set in Britain, the Department of Health would have to change the law. Alternatively the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority could issue guidelines telling clinics not to exceed a certain age.
In 2009, a British woman gave birth at age 66 after undergoing fertility treatment in Ukraine. In July 2018, a 58-year-old paid woman £4,500 to undergo IVF in India because British clinics would have turned her down because of her age.