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Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK
IVF: Where should we draw the line?
Questions are being asked about the ethics of IVF treatment after a 62-year-old woman in France revealed that her brother was the biological father of the child she had conceived by fertility treatment.
The retired schoolteacher tricked doctors in Los Angeles who carried out the fertilization that her brother was in fact her husband.
The women travelled to the US for the treatment as it is against the law in France for women who have been through the menopause to receive artificial insemination.
Does there need to be tighter international regulation of IVF? Should there be an age-limit on women who can receive the treatment or should everyone have the right to receive IVF?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
It's not the state's business to tell people, women as well as men, at what age, how and with whom they may have children.
I think the regulations of IVF need a rethink, as there is a lot of abuse of the system, where women get it simply because they are too old to have children. If nature says that women cannot have children over 45-50 years of age, then the law should have a cut-off point for IVF. The fact is, she was 62: far too old to have children.
In my experience it is those who have had their children naturally that care much less for their offspring than those who have had to undergo such extensive treatments as IVF, because they really want them. If the child is loved and cared for, it matters not the age, ilk or relationships of the parents.
I feel sorry for the child. By the time it's a teenager the mother could be senile or dead. Who in this case is going to look after them then?
Neal, Brit in USA
It seems to me that there is a good case for a legal restriction on IVF treatment for post-menopausal women. Where a woman has had an abnormally early menopause IVF could be provided by application to a judge. In cases where the justification is greed or vanity, the courts could then prevent these base motives from resulting in the birth of a child whose sole reason for existence is to pander to the baser motives of the parents.
I've heard that it puts an enormous strain on the part of the mother to have children. In view of this, shouldn't there be an age limit on IVF treatments? In this case, however, I was more disgusted to learn that the parents were siblings themselves.
Infertility IS a disease, with emotional ramifications very similar to grieving. If Randy already has children, well then I guess that's what gives him/her the right to such comments. If not, one day he/she may experience it, and realise why it should be treated as a disease, and treated as one with medical help.
From my viewpoint I don't see where this idea has come from that we all have some in built right to have children.
IVF babies often have many more problems when born; could it be Nature trying to tell us something.
Personally I would ban all IVF treatment as it is already raising difficult moral issues, like this case. It will continue to be the cornerstone of future genetic manipulation of the human race. Society needs to realise that knowledge and autonomy are often most wisely used by not being used at all.
The most sickening fact here is the apparent motive of the "parents". A considerable inheritance may have been lost had there been no child. I cannot think of a more selfish act than to artificially bring a child into the world just to ensure continuation of wealth. This is very frightening indeed.
Malcolm McMahon, York, UK
The reason men can father children at 80 and women aren't "supposed" to is obvious!
It takes a lot more out of a woman to have a baby than a man, and pregnancy is hard enough on a young body. Sperm production is really no big effort.
We seem to be living in a culture where accepting the cards you've been dealt and getting on with your life are just not an option any more. I have myself had several IVF treatments and have now given up. I don't think IVF should be offered to anyone over 50. Do specialists who offer treatment to post-menopausal women really think they are acting in the best interests of both the woman and any potential child? Or are they just getting a kick out of playing God?
I think IVF is absolutely wonderful, it has given hope and made dreams come true for countless couples around the world. But this old lady really is not the full shilling. Doesn't she realize the hard work that babies are?, And that's when you're young and fit. Who is going to look after this baby when she is drawing the pension? What chance does this baby have of a fulfilling life? As for her brother being the father, well I just think that's sick!
It just shows how selfish and inconsiderate she was, she was thinking of nobody but herself. I hope her baby doesn't resent her for it in years to come.
Karen Wallace, UK
I'm all for science, when it actually helps mankind. But, tell me, in what way has this helped mankind? In my opinion, it hasn't even helped Jeanine. If anything, she's on her way to an earlier grave after all that running she'll have to do. Or has she already employed a younger nanny?
If women were meant to have children all through their life, we wouldn't have the menopause.
There's a stone in Tihahuanaco, somewhere in South America, thousands of years old, with the inscription "beware of knowledge". Sometimes too much knowledge brings disaster. A line has to be drawn somewhere for the human race to survive. After a 60-year old will come an 80-year old, then what is the next step?
In many U.S. states, there is a maximum age limit, beyond which a couple may not adopt a child. Perhaps a similar regulation for IVF would prevent future problems. I don't think the "father is the uncle" in this situation. The man's sister will be, at most, an adoptive rather than biological parent. That said, having been though a comparatively "normal" adoption myself, I can only imagine the identity crisis those poor children will go through once they understand how they came into the world.
I don't see any problem with using her brothers sperm as the child is now genetically related to the mother.
I don't think the age is important, what is more important is the mental and physical state of the prospective parents.
This, biologically, is not a case of inbreeding, so that point is not relevant. This pregnancy was obviously wanted. The family appears to be financially able to take care of this child. If this is something they want and choose to do, it is simply their business. Perhaps we should quit worrying about these people and their reproductive choices and start thinking about families in Third World countries who are unable to provide for their children because they do not have access to birth control.
It's pretty obvious that the doctor concerned gave not the slightest heed to the moral, ethical or responsible issues at stake here. The age of the parents is only one of the reasons why this procedure should not have gone ahead. When children around the world are starving to death due to lack of resources it is obscene that this woman should be giving birth to a child fathered by her own brother. Is there anybody who would not be sickened if this dysfunctional couple had produced a child through incestual sex? The doctor has admitted he made no attempt to check whether these people would be adequate parents; all he needed a signature on a cheque. It makes one wonder if there are any circumstances where he would have refused the procedure. I sincerely hoped the American Medical Association yank his licence.
I reckon there should indeed be stricter regulations - but how can you regulate morality?
I seriously question whether it is a fair decision to have a child at 62. Wouldn't it be a tragedy for the child to find, by the time they enter their early teens, that they no longer had a mother as she had died from old age? I'm surprised that Dr Sahakian has "no moral qualms" about delivering the treatment to a woman who is entering old age, and I find it concerning that there was no legislation to stop him.
The misunderstanding over the genetic issue (the woman is not the genetic mother, so no inbreeding occurred) seems to me to have been caused by irresponsible reporting ("Woman gives birth to brother's child" and such headlines). "Woman is surrogate mother for brother" would have been more appropriate.
Stop regarding infertility as an illness deserving "treatment". A waste of money which should be spent on proper health care for people truly suffering.
There is no right to parenthood. It's the luck of the draw and is NOT life-threatening. Let's get our priorities right.
Fine, if the children are loved, or is this just about MONEY again!
I have had seven attempts at IVF and have now given up. I do feel that everyone should have the opportunity to try for a child if that is what they want - and provided they are of an appropriate age. After all those who can conceive naturally don't have to seek anyone's permission or approval before they do it. Why should we put limits on the infertile but not the fertile?
Women go through the menopause because their bodies are no longer as functionally able to carry, produce and nurture a child as when they were younger. Personally, I think it is completely wrong to allow post-menopausal women to have IVF, and disgusting that a 62 year old woman should be selfish and uncaring enough to be allowed to do this. Apart from the fact that her child will probably be taunted at school for having an 'old' mother, he or she will be facing the death of that parent much earlier than normal, and perhaps also the burden of caring for them at an age when other children are still growing up and enjoying their childhood.
Nobody has a 'right' to have a child; they are not toys that you can pick off the shelf just because you fancy having one when your shelf-life is technically past. If this woman needed something extra in her life, she should have got a dog. A baby at 62 is sick. Or are there no longer any limits to the selfishness of the society in which we are now living?
Love of money is the root of all evil, and it appears both the clinic and the "parents" are at fault. From a secular standpoint some genetic testing of prospective parents would have "ruled-out" the possibility of the clinic making this error (if it was ever a concern). From a spiritual standpoint these people and their child are in my prayers.
I don't see the problem here. The egg was donated
by another woman - the mans sister just acted as a surrogate
This has happened before with a South African woman using
her biological mother as a surrogate.
Human beings are destined to reproduce - and they will
use any means necessary to do so.
The children are not inbred. Their biological mother is the donor in California, not Jeanine. So the people who think that inbreeding is the issue here haven't followed the facts closely.
The real issue is this: people who cannot reproduce should not reproduce, no matter what the circumstances. Nature selects those who are healthy to breed. If people who cannot reproduce want children so badly, they should adopt, thereby fulfilling not only their own needs, but the needs of a child as well.
If post-menopausal women have to be screened out of IVF treatment because they are judged to be unfit to be mothers, then let's also prevent conception between all unfit pre-menopausal women and unfit male partners:
drug addicts, alcoholics, criminals, teenagers. But also: the overweight, the disfigured, the handicapped, the ugly, the hot-tempered
What else? Chess players? Gays?
Soon we'll have a perfect planet. Hitler would have been proud
The genie is out of the bottle now and whether it is banned by law or not its going to happen, especially if there is money to be made from it. Leaglise it, regulate it and try to remove, as far as is possible, the element of profit. Then we will see that largely only those cases that meet the prevailing moral approval of the public will occur.
Selfishness, The "me" culture that is what promotes such things. If we made decisions based on what we could give not get, things would be very different.
My wife is expecting our first child at it has been through IVF. If we had not succeeded this (our third attempt) we would have given up. It is never our right to expect to be able to have children but our responsibility to care for them. The joy comes in the acknowledgement of our responsibility not in just having children.
There are plenty of kids out there
in need of loving homes, yet we still
seem to be obsessed with our own, personal
fertility - to the extent that a whole industry
now exists to stimulate and fuel that desire.
There are also too many people in the world as
it is. We should think carefully before bringing any
more into it.
J. Fox, UK
I had 4 ectopic pregnancies, 4 IVF attempts, one of which resulted in a beautiful baby girl. I bless all the doctors and researchers who developed the technique and allowed these babies to be born and happy families to be created.
With regards to the present case, if a 62 year-old man can have a child without causing outrage, why not a woman? After all women live longer and countless children have been happily raised by their grand parents.
Re: the "inbreeding" comment by Colin - the egg was taken from a completely unrelated woman, so there was actually no inbreeding in this situation. Which doesn't make the situation, taken as a whole, any easier to condone. Regardless of the age of the mother (clearly in western society advanced age of a father doesn't foment the angry dialogues that have surrounded this situation) the reasons for bringing these children into the world are sad indeed.
I feel sorry for the kid, at the time I was born, my mother was considered too old to have a child (she was 37, my father was 42). As an adult I noticed the age gap between my parents and my friends parents, although I have been loved and well looked after, sometimes the age (and opinion) gap is just too great. It is no worse for a woman of 60 to mother a child than it is a man of 60 to father a child. But neither are acceptable in my view. The only adult memories that this kid will have of its parents will be of people that need looking after, not people that it can relate to and have fun with.
And as for the ribbing its going to get in school when the other kids find out who its father is well that's another story altogether!
I think that both the parents acted selfishly. The mother will be 80 on the kid's 18th birthday! How would you cope mentally knowing that your mother's brother is also your dad. It's sick. They obviously did this with no thoughts of how it would affect the child later on in life.
No one has the "right" to have children any more than they have the "right" to be better looking through plastic surgery. There are enough cases of genuine couples who cannot naturally conceive children without someone stigmatising IVF. This is a shocking case of selfishness, and ignorance.
Perhaps older women should think about the children they may give birth to rather than themselves. One needs to be fit to cope with young children day after day. I am only 48 but I would be hard pushed to keep up with children under 5. What child would want parents who were too old to play with them and probably be dead before they became a teenager.
When IVF is used to ensure an infertile couple manage to produce a child anyway, it would be interesting to study the long-term future of the children produced. It is nothing short of disgraceful that an elderly brother and sister pretended to be married to be given IVF - how will the child handle the knowledge that its father is also its uncle?
Is it just me or is this sick? This kid is going to get enough stick at school for the age of his parents... What happens when they find out they are related too? I pity the child in all of this. The laws need amending before this farce gets even worse. If it can that is.
I don't think that "we" have any right to draw lines concerning the American health issues. "They" will draw the line somewhere and as usual it will be dictated by the question "how much money you got?"
If the problem we're talking about concerns the genetic risks of mating with a sibling then it's nothing to do with the technology. If they'd done it at the age of 25 the old-fashioned way the potential problems would be no less.
What really bothers some people is old people refusing to "act their age" (i.e. go away and die). Personally, if grow old I must, I'd rather do it disgracefully than gracefully.
No doubt the French authorities will be keeping the interests of the two young children in mind (one fathered by Robert with a different woman) especially as Robert is said to have a mental handicap and a disfigured face relating to an earlier attempted suicide. The interests of the children being raised in this very elderly household must be paramount. I doubt whether it would be easy to get international agreement on IVF! Rather like euthanasia there will always be divided opinion.
This case shows the lack of regulation and ethics which seems to exist within the US. It seems very few questions were asked as to whether this woman was suitable for this kind of treatment given her age. It seems that it is a case of take the money and to hell with the consequences. What future do the babies now face given the circumstances of the deception and the notoriety that will follow? IVF treatment needs to be more tightly controlled to stop this happening again.
Technologies such as IVF, as this cases has shown, need to be re-evaluated. They dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children.
If having babies at a more advanced age was okay for Charlie Chaplin and Anthony Quinn, then why not for Jeanine? In my view, the only ethical problem here is the raising of the ethics issue by menopausal feelings for reproductive monopoly.
21 Jun 01 | Europe
Doctor hits back in IVF row
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