Ex­posed: Bri­tish clin­ics help­ing women aged 55 to have IVF ba­bies

Daily Mail - - News - By Vic­to­ria Allen Science Cor­re­spon­dent

BRI­TISH IVF clin­ics are help­ing women aged up to 55 to have ba­bies – be­cause there is no le­gal age limit.

One pri­vate doc­tor in the UK said he would even con­sider help­ing 60-year-olds give birth.

For years many med­i­cal experts have re­fused IVF for women over 50 us­ing do­nated eggs from a younger woman to be­come preg­nant. But there is no cut-off in law, and no guid­ance from the fer­til­ity reg­u­la­tor, leav­ing clin­ics free to push the lim­its. Crit­ics now say they must face stricter rules.

Lon­don Women’s Clinic is will­ing to treat women if they give birth by their 55th birthday, while the Glas­gow Cen­tre for Re­pro­duc­tive Medicine al­lows its pa­tients to have a baby at 55.

Dr Marco Gau­doin, GCRM’s med­i­cal direc­tor, said he would con­sider help­ing a 60-year-old have a child, adding it was ‘sex­ist’ to sug­gest older women can­not have chil­dren when older men can.

Bri­tish women go through the menopause at an av­er­age age of 51 and are at greater risk of mis­car­riage, still­birth and having a pre­ma­ture baby if they give birth af­ter this.

Crit­ics point out that chil­dren born to a mother in her 50s may have to watch her be­come ill and die when they them­selves are still young.

The Royal Col­lege of Ob­ste­tri­cians and Gy­nae­col­o­gists en­cour­ages women to have chil­dren be­tween the age of 20 and 35.

In 2016, the last year for which fig­ures are avail­able, 20 women in Eng­land and Wales gave birth aged 55 and over. Since 2000, more than 150 have had a child.

Most over-55s use do­nated eggs from a younger woman be­cause they have none of their own, having gone past the menopause, or have few good-qual­ity eggs.

Su­san Bew­ley, emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of ob­stet­rics and women’s health at King’s Col­lege Lon­don, said: ‘Even those who are phys­i­cally fit or us­ing eggs from a younger woman are still at much greater risk of hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tion, still­birth, having pre­ma­ture ba­bies and pre-eclamp­sia.

‘My con­cern is the known high ma­ter­nal death rate and the num­ber of “near-misses”.

‘The IVF in­dus­try does not want to put it­self out of busi­ness. It has al­ways pushed at the lim­its. This is why it would be sen­si­ble for the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion to set stan­dards for clin­ics.’

Dr Nick Mack­lon, med­i­cal direc­tor of the Lon­don Women’s Clinic which treats women with do­nated eggs up to the age of 54, said: ‘Women have been ex­pected to cram all their life tasks into 15 years be­tween the age of 25 and 40, in­clud­ing having a ca­reer, find­ing a man and having chil­dren.

‘The tech­nol­ogy we have opens that up so that they have longer. We be­lieve an age limit for them to de­liver at 54 is rea­son­able.’

The pri­vate clinic has ac­cepted 26 women aged 51 to 54 for egg dona­tion treat­ment in the three years its pol­icy has been in place.

Dr Mack­lon said: ‘Women over 50 are asked to con­firm with an ob­ste­tri­cian that they are fit and healthy for preg­nancy, while their med­i­cal and so­cial circumstances are as­sessed from a child wel­fare point of view.’

Dr Gau­doin said: ‘There is a sex­ist el­e­ment in say­ing women can­not have chil­dren in their 50s, when men can do so in their 70s and 80s. There is a “yuck fac­tor” and these prej­u­dices should be chal­lenged.’

His clinic’s age of 55 for women us­ing donor eggs was set by its ethics com­mit­tee. But it is not a ‘blan­ket limit’ and Dr Gau­doin said he would con­sider treat­ing a woman aged 60 if she were men­tally and phys­i­cally well, be­fore ask­ing the com­mit­tee to con­sider the re­quest as well.

Dr Gau­doin said: ‘We take a thor­ough med­i­cal and fam­ily his­tory of these women and also ask their GP how they feel they and their part­ners will cope.’

For there to be an age limit for IVF us­ing do­nated eggs, the law would have to change. The Depart­ment of Health could do this, if there was enough pres­sure and ev­i­dence of bad prac­tice.

Reg­u­la­tor the Hu­man Fer­til­i­sa­tion and Em­bry­ol­ogy Au­thor­ity has the power to set guid­ance telling clin­ics not to ex­ceed a cer­tain age, but has not done so.

The HFEA and the Depart­ment of Health stressed that clin­ics are obliged to con­sider both the pa­tient’s circumstances and the best in­ter­ests of any re­sult­ing child be­fore pro­ceed­ing.

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