I was just watching this Diane Sawyer clip (see video embedded below) on ABC News about the 66-year-old British woman, Elizabeth Adeney, now 8 months pregnant and soon to become the UK’s oldest-ever mother. She’s a successful career woman who chose to have in vitro fertilization in the Ukraine after being denied the treatment in Britain due to her age. (Such women are being called ‘fertility tourists,’ according to the article. Apparently, Romanian woman also did it at 66, and a woman in India recently had twins at age 70–and did it to secure a male heir, no less!)
Debate rages over whether Ms. Adeney is ‘doing the right thing’, ‘acting ethically’, being ‘selfish’, etc. Far be it from me to pass judgment over her, or to invade her privacy. Seems like she’s being hounded enough in the press after what must have been a very difficult decision and during what is undoubtedly a stressful time in her life. But I do think her case, and those of others like her, are great opportunities for us to ask ourselves some big questions.
For instance, when is it time to let nature decide our procreation cut-off date for us, and when is it OK to bring in science to help us push the envelope? Who should be a candidate for fertility treatments, and by what criteria do we decide? OK, OK, these aren’t just big questions, these are huge questions, and honestly, a bit beyond my scope. I am no medical ethicist, and I don’t mean to bite off more than I can chew in this friendly little blog. Still, the story really made me wonder about the ethics of responsible motherhood.
My gut instinct speaks first on this topic, telling me geriatric pregnancies like these–the result of in vitro fertilization after menopause–are a bad idea. Why? For me, it’s not so much about the science, or the arguable creepiness of trying to undo what nature has wrought instead of accepting that perhaps our time for motherhood has passed (heck, we fight back against the ravages of time every day, don’t we?). It’s just that, putting myself in that baby’s place, I know I wouldn’t want to lose my mom at such a young age. When Ms. Adeney’s child is 14, Ms. Adeney will be 80, should she live so long. Wow. Yet, one could argue that the child would never have come to be at all, without the love and devotion of a mother determined to bring a son or daughter into the world. And there are no guarantees for any of us, young or old, that we’ll live to see our children’s milestones. Life is just not that predictable. We don’t get to pick our parents, though it seems that, through science, they are growing ever closer to being able to pick us.
As for Ms. Adeney’s motives…? Selfish, unselfish…? I don’t know that one can ever call one’s motives in bearing a child ‘pure’ (though perhaps when it comes to octo-moms, some have motives less pure–and less sane–than others). Since a child is incapable of asking to be born, the parent’s desire for offspring is always a (if not the) deciding factor. Yet with extreme geriatric pregnancies, there are so many more potential complications, physical, emotional and ethical, to consider, which could endanger both mother and child. Truly, the mind boggles at how any woman could ever make such a momentous decision, one way or the other.
But now that it’s made, well…. Best wishes to mother and child.
Watch the Diane Sawyer piece below and let us know what you think on this hot-button issue: