Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mom at 63

Patricia Rashbook, a 63-year-old British child psychologist, has announced that she is 7 months pregnant. She and her 61-year-old husband used in vitro fertilization to get pregnant, and are looking forward to raising their child together.

According to this Times article, one of the outspoken critics of this decision is Matthew O'Gorman, from the group LIFE (a pro-life anti-abortion group in Britain), who reportedly said that the child would be "without a mother or father at the most crucial moment of adolescence or when that child is growing into maturity".

In the articles I read, I wasn't able to find any quotes (except from the doctor who did the IVF treatment) specifically affirming the couple in their choice.

What's your opinion? Is this good, bad, or indifferent? Is it unkind to the child to put him in that type of situation? Is it too risky for the mother? Is it something that should be regulated? If a friend of yours was considering IVF at 60+, what would you say?



Douglas_Coombs said...

I wouldn't recommend IVF at any age.

Mark Congdon said...


Does this go hand in hand with our earlier (unfinished) discussion about contraception, for you? Is IVF the unhealthy separation of sexuality and fertility, only from the other direction?

Or is there some other reason that you are generally opposed to IVF?


purple_kangaroo said...

I actually can't imagine ever using IVF or recommending anyone use it, either. I'm uncomfortable with it on so many levels.

Not the least of which is that it does, to me, seem an invasion of the marriage act--especially if you're talking about putting the sperm of a man other than her husband into a woman.

Also, there are all kinds of ethical issues with the creation of unused embryos. Then there's the whole other realm of the safety of using eggs and sperm with unknown medical issues and no access for information about the childs's biological parents if donor eggs and/or sperm are used.

There's a blogger I know of who recently had a child using IVF from donor sperm. Turns out the child has a rare, painful and usually fatal genetic disorder.

The real shocker? There were already children born using this sperm that had this disorder. So the sperm bank continued selling (at high prices, of course) sperm that they KNEW was a likely carrier of this disease. Now this family (and this very sick child) is dealing with the results.

Also, for very good reasons, a much higher percentage of IVF pregnancies end up in failure or with very sick children. Because, usually, there is a reason that people can't get pregnant--often because there is some genetic defect in their eggs and/or sperm or because the woman's body is not capable of carrying a healthy pregnancy to term.

Not that kids created in other ways can't have health issues or genetic defects--they can, of course. But it does seem that when you mess with natural patterns to that huge an extent, there are often consequences.

I'd have to think very carefully about the implications and consequences of IVF before recommending it at any age, too.

I also think that God designed our bodies to stop childbearing with age for a reason. Bypassing that might have serious conequences for both the child's and the parent's health, too. If they got pregnant on their own I would say, "Great! Obviously their body was still capable of bearing children." But using artificial means to override the natural, purposeful pattern of not having children once your body gets too old has all sorts of eithical and practical poblems, I think.

Douglas_Coombs said...


This is the third time/third day I've tried to post, and I'm getting tired of typing everything out time after time, so you'll have to forgive me if it is brief.

Basically the argument about whether St. Thomas Acquinas would approve of contraception took the wind out of my sail on that one. I really didn't see any progress being made and think it would be more beneficial to drop it for the near term at least.


Mark Congdon said...


Fair enough. I'm pretty sure I understand where you stand on the contraception issue, at least, so I can accept that as a goal achieved.


You first referred to "putting the sperm of a mon toher than her husband into a woman". I agree with you about the problems in that situation.

Later, you referred to a sperm bank that knowingly sold genetically defective sperm. This adds on top of the already problematic situation, and I think we can agree that that situation is reprehensible.

However, as far as I am aware, neither of those scenarios applies to this particular situation. Separating those, I'd like to interact with your other thoughts.

there are all kinds of ethical issues with the creation of unused embryos

I agree. I don't see any practical way of getting around this issue... but it does seem at least theoretically possible to fertilize only a single egg, which would resolve this moral dilemma, would it not?

a much higher percentage of IVF pregnancies end up in failure or with very sick children. Because, usually, there is a reason that people can't get pregnant

This point surprised me. Are you suggesting that people should avoid using IVF because they might have sick/disabled children? It seems, by the same logic, that mothers in their late mid-to-late 40's should also refrain from having children, because it is demonstrably true that they have much higher rate of complications and sick children. Personally, I'm thankful that my mom ignored her doctor's advice on that point, since otherwise I wouldn't exist. :) Is there a distinction between the two cases that I'm missing?

But using artificial means to override the natural, purposeful pattern of not having children once your body gets too old has all sorts of ethical and practical problems, I think.

What sorts of ethical problems? I can see the practical problems are more likely, but ethical problems? Is the ethical dilemma raised simply by "using artificial means to override the natural, purposeful pattern"? Would contraception fit into the same boat, then? How about fertility drugs or other non-invasive fertility treatments, such as hormone supplements? Or, is there some different ethical dilemma that you see here that I'm missing?

In my reading, I found that one use for IVF is when women still of childbearing age have to go through chemotherapy, which can destroy their reproductive ability. They can preserve their mature eggs in advance, and later have them fertilized in vitro and implanted. Considering that this is an "unnatural" process which balances out a separate "unnatural" process (chemotherapy), resulting in what would be considered the "natural" result, is that at all different from an ethical standpoint?


Mark Congdon said...

This discussion has forked. More is being written on it under the Gattaca post. Feel free to carry on the discussion in either place...


purple_kangaroo said...

I did want to clarify that the possibility of having a higher likelihood of issues wouldn't necessarily make IVF wrong or automatically rule it out. But it would be something that a person would have to take into consideration in making the decision.

Actually, I don't even know for sure if that's the case. As miraclebaby pointed out, I should have done some research before making assumptions, since I know very little about the topic.

My apologies for my underinformed and assumptive comments. I'll do a bit of reading before I try to continue the discussion.

purple_kangaroo said...

You know, the truth is that I will never have to face this decision because even if we never have more kids, I'm quite happy with the ones I've got.

I'm so grateful that, although I've had to face miscarriage and some minimal pregnancy complications, I've never had to deal with infertility. I know from seeing friends go through it that it's an incredibly heartrending thing to go through.

IFV is such a complicated and difficult issue that I'm really not sure what my opinions about it are. I haven't agonized over it or even spent a lot of time learning about it, so I almost feel I haven't much of a right to discuss it or hold opinions about it.

What makes it such an indimidating thing for me to contemplate is that there are so many facets to consider.

If, as I do, you think life begins at conception, that in itself creates all sorts of ethical issues. If you believe that sexuality is a--for lack of a better word--mystical and sanctified thing with great value and meaning, anything that interferes with the exclusivity and purity of sexuality is something to think about seriously and carefully.

The idea of creating a child with absolutely no connection to or knowledge about its biological parents carries its own complications.

Basically, the reason I can't imagine doing IVF myself or (at least at this point) recommending it to anyone is that (a) I don't know enough about it and (b) in some nebulous way, I am uncomfortable with the concept. Also because (c) it seems like a technique that, as we're discussing in the Gattaca post, gives the ability to have far too much control over who is born and what criteria give someone the right to exist.

I'm certainly not advocating doing away with IVF or anything even close to that. I'm just saying that, to me, it seems to be a very complicated and difficult issue.

grandmac said...

I heard a news program the other night with a whole new twist on this issue that I had never thought about.
Two men were telling their experiences with donating sperm when they were in college. (they are older now with families) There was no screening on much of anything and not many controls in the earlier years. They were coming forward to tell how it was and one of the concerns they had was that they had 400 to 500 children each. One man was in an area where his unknown children would be in the same area that he lived in. His oldest boy was in his early teens and would be dating soon. The father's concern was how would they ever know who were half siblings to this teen, who had many many half siblings around his same age, when he was dating and finding someone to marry.

purple_kangaroo said...

Here's some information about the Catholic Church's stance on IVF that I found interesting:

Donum Vitae deals with IVF fairly extensively. What I find really confusing is that it states IVF is always wrong, even if done in a way that would not destroy any embryos or use egg/sperm from outside the marriage. Yet it allows an exception for artificial insemination if done right. I don't understand this differentiation at all.

It also allows for other types of fertility treatments to help a couple conceive, and theraputic procedures carried out on an embryo after pregnancy begins.

Here's a fairly lengthy article called In Vitro Fertilization: Ethical Implications and Alternatives

purple_kangaroo said...

Arwen posted quite a good summary in a discussion on A Little Bit Pregnant about a catholic schoolteacher who was fired for using IFV:

"But in fact, the teaching on ART is a logical counterpart to the teaching on birth control. The Catholic Church has always taught that, by nature, the sexual union has two aspects: the unitive and the procreative. Contraception is disallowed because it artificially removes the procreative aspect from the sexual union. In the same vein, any form of assisted reproduction that seeks to achieve the procreation outside the sexual union is also disallowed.

This means that IUI and IVF, no matter how they are carried out, are not in accordance with Catholic teaching. Any procedure or intervention where the conception takes place as a result of sexual intercourse is in accordance. It's a fairly basic distinction once you know it; unfortunately many Catholics (including, I'm sure, poor Kelly Romenesko) are never taught it."

Kevin said...

Does that imply that any "artificial" manipulation of the egg and semen resulting from intercourse would also be morally illicit? What about in vivo surgeries, which, in a sense, is an artificial manipulation that encourages procreation?

purple_kangaroo said...

Well, since Donum Vitae specifically says artificial insemination could conceivably (LOL, I wasn't intending the pun when I wrote that) be morally licit, then it doesn't seem that all manipulations of eggs and sperm are automatically disallowed.

Douglas_Coombs said...

"IVF didn't rob us of our procreative dignity; in my opinion, it restored it by letting us discontinue the monthly farce."

What a sad commentary on a misguided solution to a tough problem.