'Granny mothers' pioneer provokes mixed reactions: Liz Hunt on the work of a controversial scientist who is revered by many women

DR SEVERINO ANTINORI is a man who provokes strong feelings. To the older women who flock to his clinic in Rome from all over the world, he is a god-like figure who can make them into mothers long after their bodies have failed them.

To fellow scientists he is a maverick, a pioneer of fertility treatment for post-menopausal women which some colleagues feel leaves ethical considerations unresolved, along with questions about the long-term physical and emotional well-being of the women and children.

Dr Antinori has been condemned by the Roman Catholic Church for his 'horrifying' work in 'pre-fabricating orphans'.

But Dr Antinori, a flamboyant and volatile figure, denies that he has done anything wrong in creating le mamme-nonne or 'granny mummies'.

Earlier this year, he told the Independent on Sunday: 'Every woman has the right to have a child. These women come to me when they have nowhere else to go, and I help where I can.'

Dr Antinori went on: 'Of course, there are ethical issues to be discussed. And they should be discussed, freely and openly. But who says it's not right for a woman to have a child at 55?

'A man can have a child at that age and everyone says: 'Isn't he clever.' But those same people say that a woman of 55 is a dish rag, good for throwing out on the dung heap. It's a disgrace.'

Dr Antinori says that, since 1991, 45 babies have been born to women in their fifties and early sixties.

Now 49, he began his career as a veterinary scientist specialising in embryology research. He went on to study gynaecology and obstetrics and became a specialist in fertility treatment, working in Venice, then Rome at the Istituto Materno Regina Elena, before setting up the Raprui clinic. He was aided by Simon Fishel, a British scientist and now reader in fertility at Nottingham University. That relationship ended in 1990 when Dr Fishel resigned amid acrimony and legal wrangling.

The rules on fertility treatment are less stringent in Italy than in many other European countries, and Dr Antinori was able to try out treatments at his clinic that other scientists were wary of, or prevented from attempting. And he has not been afraid of the publicity they generated.

In addition to making post- menopausal women into mothers, Dr Antinori has spoken openly of his success with other controversial treatments.

In 1988 he implanted a young woman with an egg donated by her mother and fertilised by her mother's boyfriend.

In 1992, a 61-year-old widow gave birth to a child after an egg was fertilised with her husband's sperm which, it was claimed, had been frozen before his death seven years earlier. Last year, Dr Antinori told reporters that he had been asked if he would treat Jane Fonda, 55, and newly-married to Ted Turner, chairman of Cable News Network. Both denied the claim.

Fertility treatment is a lucrative business with an estimated 30,000 women world-wide undergoing treatment at any one time at a cost of about pounds 230m a year. The Raprui clinic made pounds 400,000 profit last year and the latest publicity is unlikely to harm future profits or damage Dr Antinori's reputation among older women who are desperate for a child.

Le mamme-nonne are probably here to stay.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory