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Support for motherhood in middle age

MIDDLE-AGED women who want to become mothers won the support of the medical profession yesterday.

Doctors at the British Medical Association conference threw out a proposal which deplored the use of fertility treatment for women beyond the age of the menopause.

Dr Fay Wilson, a Birmingham GP, told the largely male audience that they would make themselves look ridiculous if they voted for the 'ageist' policy.

'We are supposed to be doctors with a caring ethic towards individuals. We should not be regulators of society or be tempted to play God.'

Dr Wilson said it was not natural any more to die from appendicitis, from TB or from measles, and she asked why it should be unethical to be pregnant once the normal age of a natural menopause had passed.

'So what about elderly fathers?' she asked. 'This is an old- fashioned motion about the control by men of the bodies of women and, in particular, over their reproductive function of which men are superstitiously afraid - born from the same fear as hunting witches.'

Early in the year news of post- menopausal women becoming pregnant through fertility treatment abroad caused widespread protest.

A 63-year-old Italian gave birth and a 59-year-old British woman had twins following treatment at a Rome clinic.

In Britain, about 12 women in their early fifties are known to have received fertility treatment.

The Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority, which has not approved treatment for older women, is keeping a watching brief on developments and says all cases should be treated on merit.

During the debate Dr Ralph Lawrence, from Derby, said that older women were at more risk of complications with their pregnancies and unlikely to have 'the emotional and physical ability and stamina' to raise small children and lose sleep at night.

'This decision must not be a social whim. By the time the child is a teenager he could rightly say that his mother is too old to understand his problems and needs.'

But Dr Sandy Mcara, chairman of the BMA, said that the menopause should not be a determinant of fertility treatment. Each case had to be decided individually.

Dr Stewart Horner, chairman of the BMA ethics committee, said after the debate that there was at least a 10-year variation, from the age of 45 to 55, when the menopause might naturally happen.