No amount of antioxidant supplements or kale smoothies can arrest the inevitability of ageing, he says
AMA president Dr Michael Gannon has said a woman’s decision to use IVF to conceive a child at the age of 63 was “selfish and wrong”.
The Tasmanian woman reportedly went overseas to be impregnated with a donor embryo, before returning to Australia and giving birth at 34 weeks in a Melbourne private hospital.
Perth-based obstetrician Dr Gannon, who has been president of the organisation for just over two months, had taken to Twitter to comment on the news describing the use of IVF so late in life as “madness”.
However critics accused him of making a moral judgement about the mother and downplaying the role of the 78-year-old father.
“This must not be narrowly viewed as a women’s rights issue. Nor is it about ageism,” he says in defence of his comments.
“As a community, we need to consider the rights of the child, the rights of society, the responsibilities of proper parenting, the health of the parents, the health risks to the child at birth and beyond, and the costs to the health system and the taxpayers that fund it.”
Since the baby was born premature and is being cared for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, much of its care is being subsidised by the taxpayer, he says.
“[This is] not simply an expression of choice, or a case of ‘user pays’. The health system picks up the bill.”
Dr Gannon points out there is a good reason why most IVF clinics in Australia do not offer treatment to women beyond the age of 53 years: from around the age of 30 years and onwards, problems associated with pregnancy and birth gradually increase, including miscarriage, chromosomal abnormalities, pre-eclampsia and the risk of stillbirth.
Also, by the time women reach their 50s and 60s, the effect of ageing on their blood vessels mean they are more susceptible to blood clots, health attacks and strokes.
“[This is] a potentially high price to pay to have a baby,” says Dr Gannon.
“None of this is avoidable, and no amount of antioxidant supplements or kale smoothies can arrest the inevitability of ageing.”
He said the birth of a child to a 63-year-old mother was not what the engineers of IVF had in mind when they developed the technology in the late 1970s.
“This amazing technology has brought so much joy to many across the world. But just because medical science can do something does not mean we have to do it, or should do it,” he said.
“Stories like this cannot become the norm. Let’s talk to Australian women and men about starting their families in their 20s, not normalise the dubious use of medical science and powerful hormones to wake the womb from its normal, physiological, post-menopausal sleep.”