Age 'no bar to fertility treatment': Doctor has 'few qualms' about treating women in their fifties, and says cases must be judged individually

INFERTILE older women should be considered for fertility treatment in British clinics if they meet criteria designed to safeguard their well-being and that of the child, a leading specialist said yesterday.

Dr Peter Bromwich, medical director of Midland Fertility Services, a private clinic, said he would have few qualms about treating a woman in her fifties who wanted a child if she was healthy, financially secure and had a supportive family. The 59-year-old woman who gave birth to twins on Christmas Day after fertility treatment in Italy is a millionaire businesswoman and has a husband who is 14 years younger.

Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, had earlier said that fertility treatment for post-menopausal women in this country would be rejected by ethics committees under the guidance of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Dr Bromwich said clinics were largely autonomous and could treat women as they saw fit.

'Every case must be considered individually,' Dr Bromwich said. 'There is no reason why some older women would not make good mothers.' Studies show that older parents communicate better with young children while actuarial data suggests a woman in her late fifties could live for another 25 years, he said. The limiting factor in treating older women was a shortage of donor eggs, he added.

Dr Sandy Macara, chairman of the British Medical Association, agreed that children of older mothers could have a normal childhood, and he said the decision to treat a post-menopausal woman was a matter for the woman and her doctor.

However, Professor Robert Winston, head of the country's largest fertilisation unit at the Hammersmith Hospital, west London, has condemned this latest development in fertilisation treatments. He said earlier this year when reports first appeared about the woman: 'It is dangerous for a woman of her age to have a baby and it is not good for the welfare of the child.'

Dame Mary Donaldson, 73, former chairwoman of the Interim Licensing Authority for Human In Vitro Fertilisation and Embryology, said yesterday that a woman of 59 was too old to have a baby.

She told Radio 4's The World at One: 'The first thing you have to bear in mind is that the welfare of every prospective child is paramount. I do not believe every woman has an inalienable right to have a child.'

But Dame Mary agreed that nothing could be done about the activities of doctors abroad who take a different view.

Dr Richard Holloway, the Bishop of Edinburgh, and a member of the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority, said: 'There is no absolute certainty in any of this. We are now capable of deciding on matters that were not even in our knowledge system 10 years ago. You cannot expect an infallible, absolutely precise way of steering through all this stuff.

'The impression I have of centres in this country is that they do wrestle with these issues. They are run by honourable people. They have ethics committees behind them to help them with hard cases . . . they are trying to handle it with a very strong sense of commitment to the welfare of the child and the best thing for the clients.

'But being infertile is a crushing burden for many people and we have to have compassion for them as well.'

Leading article, page 13