However, Professor Colin Campbell, chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said yesterday that the authority was uneasy about assisting post-menopausal women to motherhood and would take action if the practice became commonplace.
Professor Campbell was commenting on the case of a 58-year-old English woman who became pregnant after receiving fertility treatment in Italy. Professor Severino Antinori, who administered the treatment, cancelled a trip to England yesterday, saying he had received a death threat by telephone.
He had planned to hold a press conference to defend his work, but speaking on television yesterday, he said: 'The telephoner said, 'If you come to England . . . I will kill you'. A lot of English are good. But the problem now is stopping me (coming) to England. I am afraid for my family.'
Professor Ian Craft, director of the London Gynaecology and Fertility Centre, yesterday denied any connection with Professor Antinori. The Italian doctor said in an interview with the Daily Mail yesterday that Professor Craft, one of the country's leading experts on childlessness, had referred the English patient to him.
Professor Craft said: 'There is no professional association between the London Gynaecology and Fertility Centre . . . and Professor Antinori's practice in Italy. Any comments concerning Dr Antinori's practice of medicine should be addressed to Dr Antinori.'
Asked whether he had appealed to Professor Antinori for help, he said: 'I am making no comment.' The centre rarely treated patients over 50, and treatment 'is only undertaken after the patients are seen by one or more independent counsellors and after approval by the ethics committee. The best interests of any prospective child is the paramount concern'.
Professor Craft said some older patients now seek advice outside the country because their chances of pregnancy are increased. In the UK the number of embryos which can be transferred is limited to three. It is understood that the English woman was given four eggs or embryos and is now pregnant with twins.
According to the authority, about 2,700 women had babies as a result of fertility treatment in licensed clinics, and while most women have ceased to be fertile by their early fifties, national live birth rates show that natural pregnancies happen to older women and that rates have varied over the years.
The figures include assisted pregnancies which peak in the mid-twenties and fall over the age of 40. Figures for 1991 from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys show a rate of 119.9 live births per 1,000 women aged 25 to 29, compared to 5.3 for women over 40. In 1964 the rate for women over 40 was 13.7.
In 1991, the latest figures available, 51 women over the age of 50 had babies compared with 248,727 aged 25 to 29. These figures are for natural and assisted pregnancies. Of the older women, 19 were aged 50; 9 were 51; 8 were 52; 4 were 53; one was 54 and 10 were 55.
Professor Campbell said yesterday: 'We have not legislated on whether there is one magic, special age below which women should receive treatment and above which they should not.'
Leading article, page 21
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content