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Annegret Raunigk, a 65 year old mother from Germany, is expecting quadruplets. With the help of IVF, she has managed to conceive multiple babies. Her youngest daughter is now ten years old, and the new babies will bring the number of her children up to seventeen. Yes, that’s right; seventeen. This story seems to have caused quite a stir in the media and questions have been raised about the ethics of an older woman being allowed to conceive with medical help.
First of all, there are medical risks. As women get older, they face increased risks when pregnant. High blood pressure and gestational diabetes are two of the biggest problems, which can cause complications as the pregnancy progresses. Raunigk has an even higher chance of suffering from these health risks because she is carrying quadruplets. Many mothers who are expecting more than one baby cannot hope to give birth naturally, and so must undergo a caesarean section. In younger women this can be a strain; for an older woman it may take her much longer to recover.
With seventeen children to take care of, this is definitely going to be a problem for Raunigk. The complications don’t stop after birth; looking after a newborn is tiring work with lots of late nights and stress. As a baby grows, they get more and more energy. And although lots of older people are fit and healthy, they just don’t have the energy of a new 25 year old mother.
That’s not to say that older women shouldn’t have babies, but the welfare of the child needs to be considered before fertility treatments are used. Raunigk will be 80 by the time her newest children are in their teens. And although many people can expect to live longer with the advances in modern medicine, it is inevitable that a mother of this age can’t reasonably expect to live long enough to see her children reach their mid twenties. Is it really fair to introduce a child into the world knowing that you might not be around for important landmarks in their life?
In this country, IVF is a tricky subject when it comes to older mums. Dr Sue Avery, a fertility expert at Birmingham Women’s Fertility Centre, said that there are no laws which make an age restriction explicit; it’s something which individual clinics must decide upon. The welfare of the child is one of the most important factors, along with the health of the mother. If an older woman is fit and healthy, most doctors will see no reason to deny them treatment.
However, some people think that there should be an age limit. It could be argued that older women should not have children simply because they can’t provide the same lifestyle younger mums can. Like I pointed out before, Raunigk’s children will be teenagers with a mother who is in her eighties. Going out shopping, playing in the park and school runs can become more of a strain with age. This could very easily be too much for someone who is older.
But having children is a universal right; one of the world’s oldest recorded mothers was a 70 year old from India. Some people would argue that denying fertility treatment to women who want to have children because of their age goes against a basic human right. If the woman is healthy and fit, should there really be a problem? And since many women are choosing to have children at a later age because of career aspirations, IVF can sometimes be the only option. After the age of 35, a woman’s fertility decreases pretty rapidly and can make it a lot harder to have a baby.
In the end, both the doctors and prospective parents should weigh up the pros and cons of having a child at an older age. Older women may face certain problems that younger mums won’t, but with such great advances in modern medicine, a lot of these hurdles can be overcome. As long as the child being brought into the world is given the best possible lifestyle, the question of age should be seen as a little irrelevant. As for Annegret Raunigk, let’s hope she has enough energy to take care of seventeen children!