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The BBC's Naydip Dhariwal
"The elderly siblings had travelled from their home in Europe to a US Clinic"
 real 56k

Dr Vicken Sahakian
"I accept patients whose combined age does not exceed 110 years"
 real 28k

Thursday, 21 June, 2001, 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK
Doctor hits back in IVF row
The 62-year-old mother, identified simply as Jeanine
The retired teacher's pregnancy has rocked France
The doctor who helped a 62-year-old French woman to conceive, making her one of the world's oldest mothers, has defended his decision.

Dr Vicken Sahakian from California told the BBC that he had no moral qualms about helping the retired teacher with fertility treatment that has shocked France.

Vicken Sahakian
Dr Sahakian: Did not realise the couple were related
But he did admit that he had been tricked into believing that the woman's brother - who was the biological father - was her husband.

French judicial officials are investigating the case, which would have been illegal in the woman's own country.

Ethical debate

"It is a misuse of science. Morally and legally, it is unacceptable," French Health Minister Bernard Kouchner told French Radio on Thursday.

But the woman, who has only been named by her first name, Jeanine, told the French newspaper Le Parisien that as she was too old to continue her genetic line, she wished to pass on her brother's genes.

Click here to see the family line

It is against the law in France for post-menopausal women to receive artificial fertilisation.

An IVF regulatory authority in the UK said it was time to issue global guidelines on the treatment as no countries' rules were the same.

France shocked

"I may be 62 and my brother 52, but we are better able to bring up the children than a couple of drug addicts with a kid who are living off welfare. Why judge us and not them?" Jeanine asked in an interview with the Le Parisien newspaper.

Jeannine's brother Robert provided the sperm used to fertilise two eggs donated by a Californian woman: one was brought to term by Jeanine, the other by the donor.

The paper has called the case an "unprecedented ethical problem", and the newspaper Le Monde labelled the affair "mind-boggling and nauseating".

One of the two babies born on either side of the Atlantic
The two babies were born on either side of the Atlantic
Dr Sahakian, who works at the Pacific Fertility Center in Los Angeles, argued in an interview with the BBC World Service's World Today programme that the outcry over Jeanine's age reflected male chauvinistic society.

"On a daily basis we see couples where the man is in his 50s or 60s and a woman is in her 30s, and we certainly don't make a big deal of it, but when it's the opposite it's headline news," he said.

But the doctor said he would not have proceeded had he known the couple were related.

Torrid rows

He admitted that he makes limited checks on the personal lives of his patients.

The infants have reportedly been born into a fraught family atmosphere.

The members of this family ferociously hate each other and use the police to settle their fights

Police report
They are heirs to an inheritance worth $2m but to parents who reportedly hate each other.

"The members of this family ferociously hate each other and use the police to settle their fights. The situation is very worrying and is caused by family misunderstandings about future inheritance," reads a 1993 police report.

Jeanine eventually forced Robert to leave the house and live in a caravan where he shot himself through the chin in a fit of depression.

Their 80-year-old mother, who they live with in Frejus in the south of France, has dismissed the suggestion that the children will would become pawns in an inheritance battle.

"I think Jeanine and Robert have been reconciled and their children will be loved," she said.

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See also:

31 Mar 99 | Medical notes
18 Aug 98 | Health
Fertilise now, get pregnant later
31 Mar 99 | Health
IVF: the drawbacks
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