Ilyka sends on this article about fertility experts arguing that older women shouldn’t be able to undergo IVF treatments to get pregnant, “because elderly mothers may not live long enough to see their children grow up.”
A campaigner on ethical reproduction accused Rashbrook yesterday of being “selfish” and “irresponsible”. Josephine Quintavalle, founder of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said that Rashbrook had “totally distorted nature”.
“What she has done is selfish, it is an example of putting her own wants ahead of those of the child,” she said. “I am sure the reaction from most of the population to this is one of revulsion and distaste.
“The irony is that by taking so many invasive drugs to create a child at an advanced age, she may have actually shortened her lifespan.”
She questioned whether the egg donated to Rashbrook, who has three adult children but wanted another by John Farrant, 60, her second husband, had been obtained through the exploitation of poor eastern European women.
Huh. So the 60-year-old mother is selfish for wanting children, but the 60-year-old father is not. She’s selfish because her age may prevent her from being around long enough to see her children grow up. He, apparently, isn’t expected to be around.
Older men have been fathering children forever, with little hand-wringing about their ability to live until their children reach adulthood. As Ilyka pointed out in her email to me, MRAs and father’s rights advocates have a lot to say about the dangers of fatherlessness when women seek a divorce, but they don’t seem to have a problem with the number of older men who are fathering children.
Issues like this one are complicated, and there are moral and ethical arguments to be made about 60-year-olds having children. If I take off my feminist hat for a minute, I can admit that the situation makes me uncomfortable. But why the gender of the parent is an issue — other than for the obvious physical reasons– is beyond me.
And as for those physical reasons, I don’t think a bright-line rule should be in place barring older couples from seeking out fertility treatments. They should be informed of the risks, but should be able to proceed according to their own value systems. Would we, for example, bar a woman or her partner from fertility treatments if cancer ran in her/his family, and s/he had a strong probability of developing it early? What if s/he had cancer before, and the chance of recurrence was high? What if one parent has a disease or disability that is likely to shorten their lifespan? Who gets to decide whose physical health makes them a fit parent?
All of those factors are worth considering, and any doctor worth her salt will bring them up with couples seeking fertility treatments. But at the end of the day, if these treatments are going to be available — and I’d argue that their availability is one component in the reproductive freedom movement — then they shouldn’t discriminate. And if people are going to make moral or ethical judgments about who is too old to be a mother, then they’d better be able to explain why those same rule don’t apply to fathers.