IVF doc­tors aghast at 65-year-old mom of quadru­plets

The China Post - - LIFE - BY OLIVIER DEVOS

Ex­perts at a top fer­til­ity con­fer­ence are dis­mayed at the case of a Ger­man woman who af­ter hav­ing 13 chil­dren has had IVF quadru­plets at the age of 65.

The episode dam­ages the rep­u­ta­tion of in-vitro fer­til­i­sa­tion (IVF), which has en­abled mil­lions to know the joy of par­ent­hood, they said.

“It’s the kind of tale which makes head­lines around the world and skews the im­age of our field,” said Fran­coise Shen­field, a spe­cial­ist in re­pro­duc­tive medicine and bioethics at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don.

The con­tro­versy swirls around An­negret Rau­nigk, a Ber­lin teach- er near re­tire­ment age who is the old­est woman to have given birth to quadru­plets.

Af­ter go­ing to Ukraine for IVF treat­ment from anony­mous donors, Rau­nigk gave birth last month to three boys and a girl, de­liv­ered by Cae­sarean about 15 weeks early.

The ba­bies weighed be­tween 655 and 960 grams (1.4 to 2.1 pounds) at birth, have since gained be­tween 30 and 50 per­cent in weight “and are de­vel­op­ing well”, Ber­lin’s Charite Hos­pi­tal said Wed­nes­day.

One is on res­pi­ra­tory as­sis­tance and the oth­ers “re­quire milder aids for breath­ing”, it added, but med­i­cal con­fi­den­tial­ity barred it from say­ing more.

One baby re­quired surgery for an in­testi­nal prob­lem, doc­tors said last month.

Spe­cial­ists in­ter­viewed at the an­nual con­fer­ence of the Euro­pean So­ci­ety of Hu­man Re­pro­duc­tion and Em­bry­ol­ogy (ESHRE), clos­ing in Lis­bon Wed­nes­day, high­lighted eth­i­cal con­cerns about the mother’s age and risks for the ba­bies.

There is no in­ter­na­tional reg­u­la­tion of fer­til­ity treat­ment and na­tional guide­lines are based on med­i­cal opin­ion.

A gen­eral age limit for IVF is about 50, close to the typ­i­cal on­set of menopause, the ex­perts said.

Women in Ger­many to­day live to around 85, “so you could ar­gue that a 65-year-old’s got 20 years and could see that child through to adult life,” said Adam Balen, a pro­fes­sor of re­pro­duc­tive medicine and chair­man of the Bri­tish Fer­til­ity So­ci­ety.

A much big­ger con­cern, he said, was that the clinic had im­planted nu­mer­ous em­bryos to boost chances of a live birth.

“Mul­ti­ple preg­nan­cies are dan­ger­ous. They’re dan­ger­ous for the mother, but they’re more dan­ger­ous for the ba­bies,” said Balen.

Fer­til­ity clin­ics in ad­vanced economies stopped rou­tine trans­fers of mul­ti­ple em­bryos about six years ago.

The ev­i­dence shows that ba­bies born from such mul­ti­ple trans­plants gen­er­ally en­ter the world with lower birth­weight and higher risk of ill health and cog­ni­tive dif­fi­cul­ties.

Sin­gle Em­bryo

Most Western watch­dogs rec­om­mend sin­gle em­bryo trans­fers, which are now much more likely to suc­ceed than a decade ago.

The Ger­man So­ci­ety for Re­pro­duc­tive Medicine ( DGRM) de­scribes Rau­nigk’s case as “ex­tremely ques­tion­able.”

“Egg do­na­tion and es­pe­cially the trans­fer of more than one em­bryo should not have been al­lowed or per­formed in these cir­cum­stances, both on med­i­cal and eth­i­cal and moral grounds,” it says.

Rau­nigk, who has seven grand- chil­dren, had ne­go­ti­ated ex­clu­sive rights to her story with Ger­man TV chan­nel RTL.

News of her mul­ti­ple preg­nancy emerged in April, when Rau­nigk dis­missed crit­i­cism that she was act­ing ir­re­spon­si­bly.

But she is not the first woman to raise a storm about IVF ethics.

One prom­i­nent case was Car­men Bou­sada, a sin­gle Span­ish woman who in 2006 had twin IVF boys at the age of 66, mak­ing her old­est woman at the time to be­come a mother.

She later ad­mit­ted she had lied about her age to doc­tors, tell them she was 55.

Af­ter be­com­ing a cam­paigner for the rights of older women to ex­pe­ri­ence moth­er­hood, Bou­sada died of can­cer in 2009, leav­ing or­phans aged two-and-a-half.

Another was Nadya Sule­man, a 33-year-old Cal­i­for­nian woman who was dubbed “oc­to­mum” af­ter giv­ing birth to octuplets. It later tran­spired she was a sin­gle mother of six other chil­dren un­der the age of eight.

Rogue clin­ics dan­gle of­fers of egg and sperm do­na­tion and cheap IVF rates, and pay com­mis­sions to in­ter­me­di­aries who bring in pun­ters, the ex­perts said.

“The out­come is this sort of thing, which is a dis­as­ter, and some­body, some­where is mak­ing a lot of money,” said Balen.

“Like all tech­nol­ogy, as­sisted re­pro­duc­tion can be used rightly or wrongly,” Shen­field ob­served.

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