Outcry over IVF for 59-year-old

A British IVF clinic has created an ethical storm by offering treatment to a 59-year-old woman.

The decision makes Susan Tollefsen the oldest woman to be offered help to conceive in the UK.

At present most private clinics observe a guideline prohibiting treatment for women over the age of 50, while the NHS has a cut-off point of 39 - leading some older women to visit foreign clinics with more liberal rules.

But Tollefsen - who had her first child aged 57 after fertility treatment at a Moscow clinic - may now get assistance in conceiving from the London Women's Clinic.

She said: "I'm still so full of life and healthy at (nearly) 60 I don't see any reason why I shouldn't be treated.

"I know other people are looking forward to retirement and so on, while I'm looking forward to kindergarten and infant school. I would encourage other women my age to do this."

But there was widespread dismay on Sunday after the news was revealed in the Mail on Sunday, with critics warning that it could "open the floodgates" for pensioner parents and demanding an age limit be enshrined in law.

Tollefsen, a retired special needs teacher from Laindon, Essex, who turns 60 in October, gave birth to her daughter Freya in March 2008.

The embryo was created using a donor egg and sperm from her partner Nick Mayer, who is 11 years her junior.

She approached the London Women's Clinic about trying for another baby on September 9 last year and medical director Peter Bowen-Simpkins agreed to help her following a consultation.

If she wants to pursue the offer, it will have to get the go-ahead from the clinic's governance committee.

Even if her case is refused, other women are to be given the opportunity after a general meeting of 50 staff last Thursday voted unanimously in favour of raising the age limit for treatment.

Another woman, who is 57, has already been given the green-light for tests to see if she is suitable for IVF.

Bowen-Simpkins, who is spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: "Everyone agreed that we should change the policy and now treat women over the age of 50 on a case-by-case basis.

"Sue will still have to go through more detailed assessment. She'll have to be seen by our counsellor and get a supporting letter from her GP. We'll also want to know that her partner is 100 percent supportive of her decision.

"But we'll consider her now for treatment if she wants to go ahead, yes."

Michaela Aston, of national charity Life, said: "This is a woman who will be of pensionable age by the time the child is born. The child will be subject to ridicule.

"When tampering with the wellbeing and health and happiness of a child there needs to be responsible parenting - and conceiving a child outside the natural sphere of things, particularly over 60, is not responsible at all.

"It's putting self-interest in front of the child's interests. Children are becoming more and more of a commodity - a consumer item. We need to listen to nature."

Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, warned that the rules on IVF treatment were being "interpreted more and more liberally" and called for a national bio-ethics committee to be set up to rule on the issue.

She added: "More and more women who have left it too late will consider this good news and there will be more applications at clinics. Sixty plus is a good age to be a grandparent, not a parent."

The consultation was filmed for a BBC documentary, Too Old To Be A Mum?.

Bowen-Simpkins is seen telling Tollefsen that she would need hormone replacement therapy to "help prepare your womb" and mentions a "ball-park figure" of £s;5 000 (R59 710) for treatment.

Tollefsen has previously stated she believed there should be a cut-off point of 60.

She admitted to the Daily Mail on Sunday that she had been asked to enquire about fertility treatment by the documentary team and was now tempted. She plans to discuss it with her partner.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has never revoked any clinic's licence for treating older women.

A spokesman said: "There is no requirement to get approval from us." - Daily Mail


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