Reports that a 62-year-old Spanish woman has given birth after IVF treatment have led many to question whether there should be age limits with such treatment. Lina Alvarez, a doctor in north-west Spain, isn’t the oldest person to have had success with IVF. Earlier this year, in India, Daljinder Kaur is said to have given birth at the age of 72, prompting calls from the Indian Medical Council for a ban on fertility treatment in women over the age of 50.
In many countries where there is funding assistance for IVF there is a limit to obtaining treatment over a certain age. In Britain, for example, the bar is set at age 42. But Alvarez received private treatment. So why care about her age? And what business is it of the rest of us whether she has access to IVF?
There are several arguments that typically surface in debates about age and fertility treatment – and they are all deeply flawed.
1. Having an older mother is harmful
It is sometimes claimed that children will be harmed if older mothers are allowed access to IVF. This might be because older mothers will not be able to meet the physical demands of lifting, playing with and caring for a small child. It might be because it would be a bad thing for a child if their mother were to die while they are still young.
However, in some countries women of Alvarez’s age on average can expect to live to the age of 85. This means most older mothers around her age will live to see their child grow up and leave home. Many children already receive regular care from grandparents (44% in the UK) and we do not usually think that this is bad for the child. While some older women may struggle with the physical demands of childcare, that will also be true of some younger women.