Leading article: A woman's choice

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The longing for children is one of the most powerful of all human desires. Those touched by it will go to extraordinary lengths and make extreme sacrifices to realise their dream.

Today's report, from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's meeting in New Orleans, that older mothers may be increasing the risk of infertility in their daughters by delaying childbirth, is another blow to all those women who are trying to balance the demands of motherhood and career. But it is unlikely to deter them - nor should it.

One specialist at the conference described a colleague - a paediatric neurologist - who finally gave birth to twins after years of fertility treatment. The twins were born extremely prematurely and one died at birth. The other survived but remains in a persistent vegetative state. The paediatric neurologist has given up her job to nurse her child at home.

When asked in a survey whether, knowing what she knows now, she would have gone through the treatment again, she answered "yes". It was her only chance to have a child and she would not have given it up for anything she said. She is probably not alone in her sentiments.

In-vitro fertilisation as a treatment for infertility is still less than 30 years old. It has benefited thousands of women who would otherwise have remained childless. The long-term impact on the health of both children and mothers remains to be established, but the early indications are broadly encouraging.

Women and their partners must be properly informed of the risks - but the decision to seek treatment is one they alone can take.

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