Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French health minister, said his government would put before parliament a bill on genetic engineering that would include a ban on artificial impregnation for women past child-bearing age.
The French moves follow the birth of test-tube twins to a 59-year-old British woman in London on Christmas Day following treatment at the Rome clinic run by Dr Severino Antinori. A 62-year-old is reported to be three months pregnant after treatment at the same clinic, and Italy's health minister, Maria Pia Garavaglia, has also called for new laws to curb artificially induced pregnancies.
Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, has expressed 'grave concern' over the British-born case and has already indicated that she will discuss with European colleagues ways of producing a uniform policy on suitability for fertility treatment.
She said last week: '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'.
The French action will increase pressure for legislation in Britain, even though the wealthy 59-year-old went to Italy after the ethics committee of a London clinic refused to approve her treatment.
Mr Douste-Blazy, himself a doctor, said it was dangerous and immoral for women past the menopause to bear children. 'I think it is absolutely shocking that a child be 18 when his mother is 80. It is totally undeserved,' he said on French radio.
The bill would state 'very clearly that medically-assisted procreation techniques, particularly in-vitro insemination, will be reserved for women of child-bearing age.'
The bill will go before the upper house of the French parliament in two weeks' time and is expected to pass both houses easily, given the centre-right coalition's large majority. France is legislating despite doctors there saying that the use of the test-tube baby technique on women past the menopause is effectively debarred as women may only be implanted with an embryo created from their own eggs.
In Italy, Romano Forleo, a gynaecologist and senator, has presented a bill which would similarly ban treament for post-menopausal women. The measure is, however, unlikely to become law as the Italian parliament is due to be dissolved for a general election.
The controversy over post- menopausal women giving birth has been heightened by developments that have seen a black mother give birth to a white baby in Italy, and proposals in Britain that eggs from the ovaries of aborted foetuses could be used to provide donor eggs for women whose own ovaries do not function. Mrs Bottomley has said that would 'certainly not be permitted as things stand'.
In Britain, doctors are divided on the ethics of allowing post-menopausal women to give birth via in-vitro fertilisation. Professor Ian Craft, head of the London Fertility Clinic which originally refused the 59-year-old woman and her 45-year-old husband treatment, has argued it would be wrong to fix an upper age limit for women when there is no limitation on men.
However, Professor Robert Winston, head of Britain's largest unit at Hammersmith hospital, west London, argued earlier this year that births at late ages were dangerous for the mother and not good for the welfare of the child.Reuse content