20 July 2009
ByAppeared in BioNews 517
A woman who was once the world's oldest mother has died from cancer aged 69. María Carmen del Bousada de Lara, from Spain, gave birth to twins two years ago using IVF. She received fertility treatment in Los Angeles, California, after misleading doctors about her age and gave birth to two boys in Barcelona at the age of 66. It is reported that Ms Bousada paid around £30,000 for treatment at the Pacific Fertility Centre where she told doctors that she was 55 to avoid the clinic's age limit for treatment. Her doctor later said that had she known Ms Bousada's real age she would not have performed the procedure.
There is no legal age limit for fertility treatment in Spain and although in the UK the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) does not set an age limit either, clinics must consider the welfare of the child above all other considerations. In practice, clinics in the UK do not provide treatment for the over 60s and, in particular, the National Health Service (NHS) does not usually offer state-funded IVF to women over 35. Commentators have expressed concern that because of their age older mothers may find it difficult to raise their children, especially during the teenage years. ‘We think a limit of 45 should be established in law. Cases like this not only create physical dangers for the mother but many family complications,' said Nuria Terribas, from the Borja Bioethics Institute based in Barcelona. Joseph Torrence, of the Catholic group Iglesia Plural, said that ‘the most important thing is the children are left unprotected, which should not be allowed', adding: 'What is needed are stricter controls to stop this happening again.'
Ms Bousada was diagnosed with cancer a few months before her children were born yet has always insisted that she did not regret her decision. ‘I have always wanted to be a mother all my life, but I have never had the opportunity or met the right man,' she once said, explaining her decision. ‘My mother lived to 101 years old and I have every reason to believe longevity runs in my family,' she added. Ms Bousada came under fire for first of all saying her decision to undergo IVF and have children was not for media attention to then sell her story to a UK newspaper for an undisclosed sum weeks later.
Speaking out against Ms Bousada's decision to have children, Josephine Quintavalle of the Comment on Reproductive Ethics said the children were created like ‘objects' and branded Ms Bousada ‘totally selfish'. ‘Why would a woman want to become a mother at an age when she knows her children are much more likely to be orphaned when they're young?' she asked. Professor William Ledger from Sheffield University Medical School and a Member of the HFEA said that Ms Bousada's death may give rise to a drive to change the law in countries like Spain. ‘What's good about regulation in the UK is that we put the welfare of the child at the centre. There are many reasons to have misgivings about mothers so old, and I think this case has shown that we are right,' he said.