Jeremy Laurance: Birth of sons may have sealed fate

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Now that her children have been orphaned, Maria del Carmen Bousada de Lara's death will reopen the controversy about older mothers. On one side, critics argue it cannot be right for women to defy nature and have babies into their sixties, with all the risks to mother and children involved. On the other side, supporters say women should enjoy the same rights as men – and we celebrate older fathers.

In Britain, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulates IVF clinics, stays steadfastly aloof from the debate, setting no age limit and insisting that the overriding criterion for deciding who should be treated is the welfare of the child.

In practice, most UK clinics set a limit at about age 50, arguing that risks increase beyond that age.

The complicating factor in Ms Bousada de Lara's case was her cancer. If it was a hormone dependent cancer, such as breast cancer, the drugs she would have had to take to prepare her womb to receive the embryos could have encouraged it to grow. Merely becoming pregnant, and the hormonal changes associated with that, could have had the same effect. The birth of her sons may thus have sealed her own fate.

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