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Caroline Farrow: Mother Nature knows her stuff. Your sixties are no time to have a baby


It doesn’t take a PhD in bio-ethics to know that if something feels innately wrong, there is often a jolly good reason. A case in point being the 59 year-old woman who is fighting to be allowed to give birth to the child of her dead daughter.

While one has every sympathy for the mother whose daughter tragically died from bowel cancer in her mid-twenties, pity should not translate into a licence to break unwritten laws of nature. Most of us are fortunate enough to reach our three score years and ten, indeed many of us will, with luck, live to at least four score, but there is a reason why most women’s fertility declines and dies by the time they have reached their half-century.

Though incredibly rewarding, the business of pregnancy and child-rearing is not exactly a walk in the park, it can sap every available ounce of energy and resources and is definitely a younger woman’s game. I speak from the perspective of a 40-year-old who has had a baby every decade since her twenties. I am in no position to knock older mothers, however Mother Nature knows her stuff and no matter how heart-breaking, at some point all women have to reconcile themselves with the knowledge that their baby-making days are over and for good reason. At 37 weeks pregnant, in the grip of what is medically described as an ‘elderly pregnancy’, I have experienced fatigue beyond anything I’ve ever previously experienced. The thought of doing it all again in twenty years time is almost enough to send me running straight to the nearest Dignitas clinic!

If this unnamed woman is successful in her bid to be impregnated with her daughter’s fertilised eggs, she will be experiencing pregnancy and birth in her sixties, stretching her body to its absolute limits, unnecessarily risking not only her life, but also that of the unborn child. Should the child be fortunate enough to survive, then the mother will be coping with the sleepless nights and constant exhausting demands of a baby and toddler well into her sixties, at an age when she should be contemplating retirement. One has to wonder whether or not she’s donned her rose-tinted spectacles about the realities of caring for a young child.

And, of course, that’s before she has factored in how she will feel or blend in amongst the school mums, some of whom will be a good forty years younger than her and what impact having an elderly mother will have on the child. The big elephant in the room being how on earth the child is going to get its head around the fact that its biological mother died five years before they were born, that its mother is also its grandmother, and its dad just some random sperm donor? Added to which by the time the child has reached University age, it will be torn between its new-found independence and the demands and potential costs of caring for aged parents.

There is a difference between accepting that sometimes children are born into situations that are less than ideal and deliberately contriving to deprive them of either their biological family or a carefree childhood and youth. It is not far-fetched to imagine a situation that by the time the child has reached adolescence, it might well be orphaned with no other family members to look after it. Neither is it, to use society’s favourite boo-word ‘bigoted’, to inwardly shudder at the notion of a grandmother giving birth to her daughter’s offspring. What kind of world are we living in when we even have to defend our horror?

Cases such as these are an inevitable consequence of assisted reproductive techniques which were developed out of a commendable, if misguided, altruism towards desperate childless couples. IVF has now turned into a huge money-making exercise which has the effect of commoditising a child; treating it as a right to be exercised or goods to be purchased, at any age and for any reason.

There is no clearer indication that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is no longer fit for purpose, given that it has expressed sympathy for the grandmother and has not turned down her application on any of the most obvious grounds, namely rights of the child or maternal age. The only reason that this case is going before the High Court is because it involves technical legal issues surrounding whether or not explicit consent was granted by the deceased woman and permissions to export the eggs and sperm abroad to a New York fertility clinic. Had the woman’s daughter given written consent for her mother to carry her child after her death, then unbelievably, this case would not merit any sort of official ethical review or approval by the HFEA – a grandmother in her sixties would be able to go ahead and give birth to her dead daughter’s child by an anonymous donor, with no questions asked!

Rather than apportioning personal blame to a grieving mother who is obviously struggling to come to terms with the loss of her beloved daughter, we ought instead to turn our ire on the greed and ambition of fertility clinics who wish to normalise such abhorrences for the sake of profit margins.

It is only natural that when people experience a loss that they desperately want to reconnect with their departed loved ones. The fertility doctors who would defend and  assist this women are no better than the bogus mediums of the Victorian era, replacing ectoplasm with cytoplasm to provide unhealthy and potentially dangerous avenues for people to explore while attempting to come to terms with their grief.

Welcome to reproductive choice in 21st century Britain, where adults’ rights to children  and the boundaries of technological possibilities supersede any moral or ethical consideration.

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Caroline Farrow
Caroline Farrow
Columnist for the Catholic Universe

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