British IVF clinics are helping women have babies at 60 because there is no legal age limit

British IVF clinics are helping women aged up to 55 to have babies – because there is no legal age limit.

One private doctor in the UK said he would even consider helping 60-year-olds give birth.

For years many medical experts have refused IVF for women over 50 using donated eggs from a younger woman to become pregnant. 

But there is no cut-off in law, and no guidance from the fertility regulator, leaving clinics free to push the limits. Critics now say they must face stricter rules.

London Women’s Clinic is willing to treat women if they give birth by their 55th birthday, while the Glasgow Centre for Reproductive Medicine allows its patients to have a baby at 55.

Dr Marco Gaudoin, GCRM’s medical director, said he would consider helping a 60-year-old have a child, adding it was ‘sexist’ to suggest older women cannot have children when older men can.

British women go through the menopause at an average age of 51 and are at greater risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and having a premature baby if they give birth after this.

Critics point out that children born to a mother in her 50s may have to watch her become ill and die when they themselves are still young.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists encourages women to have children between the age of 20 and 35.

In 2016, the last year for which figures are available, 20 women in England and Wales gave birth aged 55 and over. Since 2000, more than 150 have had a child.

Most over-55s use donated eggs from a younger woman because they have none of their own, having gone past the menopause, or have few good-quality eggs.

Susan Bewley, emeritus professor of obstetrics and women’s health at King’s College London, said: ‘Even those who are physically fit or using eggs from a younger woman are still at much greater risk of hospitalisation, stillbirth, having premature babies and pre-eclampsia.

‘My concern is the known high maternal death rate and the number of ‘near-misses’.

‘The IVF industry does not want to put itself out of business. It has always pushed at the limits. This is why it would be sensible for the medical profession to set standards for clinics.’

Dr Nick Macklon, medical director of the London Women’s Clinic which treats women with donated eggs up to the age of 54, said: ‘Women have been expected to cram all their life tasks into 15 years between the age of 25 and 40, including having a career, finding a man and having children.

‘The technology we have opens that up so that they have longer. We believe an age limit for them to deliver at 54 is reasonable.’

The private clinic has accepted 26 women aged 51 to 54 for egg donation treatment in the three years its policy has been in place.

Dr Macklon said: ‘Women over 50 are asked to confirm with an obstetrician that they are fit and healthy for pregnancy, while their medical and social circumstances are assessed from a child welfare point of view.’

Dr Gaudoin said: ‘There is a sexist element in saying women cannot have children in their 50s, when men can do so in their 70s and 80s. There is a ‘yuck factor’ and these prejudices should be challenged.’

His clinic’s age of 55 for women using donor eggs was set by its ethics committee. But it is not a ‘blanket limit’ and Dr Gaudoin said he would consider treating a woman aged 60 if she were mentally and physically well, before asking the committee to consider the request as well.

Dr Gaudoin said: ‘We take a thorough medical and family history of these women and also ask their GP how they feel they and their partners will cope.’

For there to be an age limit for IVF using donated eggs, the law would have to change. The Department of Health could do this, if there was enough pressure and evidence of bad practice.

Regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has the power to set guidance telling clinics not to exceed a certain age, but has not done so.

The HFEA and the Department of Health stressed that clinics are obliged to consider both the patient’s circumstances and the best interests of any resulting child before proceeding.

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