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A 74 year old woman recently had twin girls after a successful IVF. How ethical, is it, however, for parents this old to try for a baby? What about the babies’ human rights?
On 5th September 2019, 74-year-old Erramatti Mangayamma and her husband Raja Rao (mentioned as 78 years and 82 years old in different reports), announced publicly that they had successfully birthed twin girls in Andhra Pradesh with the help of IVF.
The couple got married in 1962 but were unsuccessful in becoming parents until they underwent a successful IVF attempt in January 2019.
The announcement of the births made global headlines, inviting much controversy on the ethics of reproductive technologies.
Ms Yaramati said that the villagers called her a childless woman and she and her husband spent almost their whole life, trying various treatments to have a baby. Being childless is still a huge social stigma in India and people go to any lengths to have children, while others get pushed to bad treatments by quacks and sometimes even pushed to suicide.
The earlier ‘record’ of being the oldest mom was also held by an Indian woman named Daljinder Kaur who gave birth to a boy in Haryana in her early 70s as well in 2016.
The fact that a lot of infertile couples are ready to spend a huge amount of money and risk the physical and mental side effects of IVF rather than adopt a child suggests not just social pressure in India, but it also indicates on one hand an overpowering emotional need for a biologic offspring as well as on the other the mental blocks against adoption regarding gender, caste, religion, colour of skin etc.
Both the parents in this recent event who are being touted as the oldest biological parents are in intensive care, just a week after the delivery.
The husband suffered a sudden stroke a day after the delivery and is currently being treated in the ICU of the hospital. When asked what would happen to the babies if something were to happen to him and/or his wife due to their advanced age and health issues, he asserted that it is all in the “hands of God.”
This story isn’t so much about the parents but also about babies born to parents with such advanced age or health issues, more so as they are girls in this misogynist society. Who will look after them if the biological parents are almost octogenarians and might need caregiving themselves?
Margaret Atwood spoke recently about how there is a whole system that mandates this kind of reproductive slavery onto women. In countries like India, it’s not just that women lack autonomy over their bodies, but safe abortion services are limited, and there is an immense pressure to produce offspring, mostly sons.
In India we often see parents abandon children, more so if they are girls and have a health condition or otherwise too. So who will ensure that children born to parents in the geriatric age-group would not be left to fend for themselves if the parents become unable to take care, or simply leave them behind after death?
In today’s modern world we largely believe that the human becomes a person at the moment of birth so babies definitely have human rights which are often overlooked in this wild goose chase to parenthood at whatever cost, literally.
The ethics of IVF propagate the view that life begins at conception. However various religions and philosophies say the pre-embryo is a person who possesses rights from the moment of conception.
IVF technology is the most common form of ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) used globally. Estimates suggest that it is today a 30 billion industry in India with over 3000 clinics across the country.
When used especially for older couples (beyond average reproductive age, for instance menopausal women if it isn’t a case of early menopause), it has been criticised on the following grounds:
After the Daljinder Kaur case in 2016, the doctors had themselves called for an upper age limit for infertility treatment. They had suggested that such treatments must not be made available to women above 50 years of age. Others argue that age restriction if any, then will be equal if only applied to both men and women above 50.
Regulation on IVF varies across the world. In the UK, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends that NHS (National Health Service) should not provide IVF to women over the age of 43. Policies in Japan, Israel and other European countries are also similar. However, people pay for treatment in private clinics not bound by these rules, and get donor eggs.
Whatever the need whether emotional or social to have progeny, it must not override the ethical concerns about the health of the mother at such an advanced age, and more importantly the human rights of the new babies.
Image source: YouTube
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Pooja Priyamvada is a columnist, professional translator and an online content and Social Media consultant.
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