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Is having a child through IVF in your sixties responsible parenting?

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FURORE has erupted in medical circles, after a 63-year-old woman gave birth to an in vitro fertilisation baby, officially becoming Australia’s oldest new mum.

The Tasmanian woman underwent IVF treatment, and gave birth to a daughter in a Melbourne private hospital on August 1.

Several leading doctors have questioned whether her decision to go ahead with later-life IVF treatment represented “responsible parenthood”.

The woman gave birth at 34 weeks through a caesarean operation, and was supported throughout by her 78-year-old partner.

The Australian Medical Association president Dr Michael Gannon lashed out in a tweet. 

He said there were “greater priorities in women’s health”.

“Anyone thought ahead to its teens? Selfish, wrong,” Dr Gannon tweeted.

It’s understood that after several years of failed IVF procedures, the woman was able to use the procedure to successfully conceive her first child with the help of a donor embryo, which was implanted overseas.

Monash University professor Gab Kovacs said responsible IVF clinics refused treatments for women over 53, with the arrival of menopause and the end of natural pregnancy.

“Our bodies weren’t designed to have children in our 60s. I don’t think any responsible IVF unit in Australia would treat someone of that age, and it’s not a standard of medicine I would condone,” Prof Kovacs said.

However this does not stop women from travelling overseas in their quest to become a parent.

Queensland Bioethics Centre’s Dr Ray Campbell said as well as a health issue for mother and baby, there was a longer-term question of “responsible parenthood”.

“This involves not just bearing a child but supporting a child for the next 15 to 20 years,” he said.

“The reason for having a baby in earlier years is a matter of responsible care – and the Church does teach about responsible parenthood.”

Data from studies carried out by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveals that the average age of women receiving treatment using their own eggs or embryos, is 36 years, and the average age for women using donated eggs or embryos is 40.8 years.

Unlike other OECD nations, Australia has no age limit on public subsidies for fertility treatment – though some hospitals and private centres impose their own cut-off.

In Australia, the number of women over 40 having fertility treatment has almost tripled in the past decade. 

The average Australian woman aged 41-42 years old has a 5.8 per cent chance of having a live birth, unless the woman is using previously frozen (and therefore younger) eggs. 

This is known as an initiated cycle.

For a woman 43-44 years old, there is a 2.7 per cent chance of having a live birth per initiated cycle.

And for a woman over 45, there is only a 1.1 per cent chance of having a live birth per initiated cycle.

A recent investigation by ABC TV’s Four Corners found that last year fertility treatment cost Medicare more than $250 million.

Earlier this year the debate about what age women should stop using IVF treatments was sparked when an Indian woman gave birth at the age of 72.

By Mark Bowling 

Catholic Church Insurance

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