Letter: Older pregnancies: proceed with care

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Sir: Polly Toynbee's article on older women bearing children ("A wrinkled, saggy woman carrying a foetus? Yuk", 3 June) was couched entirely in terms of physical distaste and prejudice. But I wonder if it was based on a misunderstanding of what is involved? It would be a real breakthrough if science could now make postmenopausal women fertile, but despite the term "fertility treatment", this is not what has been achieved.

What science can do is to enable a woman to bear a child from an egg which has been donated and transferred from another woman. And since this is so, it is very reasonable that the donor, or society in general, should take as much interest in the child's point of view as it does in the case of adoption. Women are encouraged to donate - not an easy or risk-free process - because they understand the pain of childlessness, and imagine a loving long-term family setting for what is biologically their own son or daughter. In practice, eggs are at a premium and in some parts of the world it is money that will determine who gets them. Here I would suggest we are entitled to proceed with caution and, as with so many other things in health care, it is a matter of priorities.

As for the gender equality argument, well, the fact is men do remain genuinely fertile into old age, and so far we just have to accept the fact that women do not.



Department of Philosophy

University of Hull


5 June