Guidelines sought over older women's babies

Click to follow
THE BIRTH of test-tube twins to a 59-year-old woman could lead to Europe-wide guidelines limiting access to fertility treatments for older women, it emerged last night.

Speaking of her 'grave concerns' over the case, Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, indicated that she would be discussing it with other European health ministers, with a view to establishing a uniform policy on which women are deemed suitable for fertility treatments.

The woman who gave birth on Christmas Day in a London hospital was impregnated with a fertilised egg at a clinic in Rome, where Dr Severino Antinori has pioneered fertility treatments for post-menopausal women. The ethics committee at a London clinic rejected her for treatment on the ground that she was too old to stand the emotional strain of pregnancy.

Mrs Bottomley said yesterday that women did not have an automatic right to have a child but that a child had a right to a suitable home. 'There have to be proper safeguards before such treatment can be made available. I have reservations in this particular case. It has been made clear that such a case in this country would have been most unlikely to get through.'

Although a decision to treat older infertile women is a matter for the individual ethics committees of fertility clinics, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which oversees their work, is known to advise against such cases.

Speaking on the Today programme on Radio 4, Mrs Bottomley said: 'We cannot stop people going to any country in the world for treatment but maybe we'll renew our efforts to have discussions with other countries as to the examples we set and how they can establish ethical controls over some of the dramatic achievements in modern medicine.'

Medical opinion is sharply divided over the birth of the babies to the wealthy businesswoman and her 45-year-old husband. The eggs, donated by a young woman, were fertilised with his sperm. Dr John Marks, former chairman of the British Medical Association Council, said the case 'bordered on the Frankenstein syndrome'. He said the woman had had about 40 years in which she could become a mother yet she had chosen to complete a whole career, retire and then attempt motherhood.

However, Professor Ian Craft, head of the London Fertility Clinic, where the woman first sought fertility treatment, defended the decision to allow the woman to become pregnant. 'Although I am not a proponent of fertility treatment for older women, I think a woman of an older age, up to a certain point, has as much right to be treated as a younger woman,' he said.

'I think it would be a negative thing if, because of the clamour of the media and the knee-jerk reaction of the authorities, they fixed an upper age limit for women when there is no age limit for men.'

Ethical dilemma, page 2

Leading article, page 13