Who makes the rules about age?

Italian gynaecologist Severino Antinori grabbed headlines in the ’90s when he used IVF and egg donation to help menopausal women get pregnant — in 1993, a 59-year-old from Britain gave birth to twins.

Who makes the rules about age?

A year later, an Italian, aged 62, had a son.

Could the same happen in Ireland? Unlikely, says Dr David Walsh, Sims IVF medical director. “We’re a very conservative nation — Ireland’s not going to be the new Italy.”

But in the absence of any legal framework on assisted reproduction in Ireland — and, therefore, no regulation that stipulates upper age limits — in theory a woman aged 50 or over could be helped to get pregnant, says Dr Deirdre Madden, lecturer in law at UCC and a member of the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction.

“The only policy that would restrict, or enable, is the policy specialists have in their own clinics. Most of the clinics follow a document produced by the Irish Fertility Society, which sets out guidelines on IVF. There’s no legal obligation to follow these. Any decision would be a clinical one made by doctors themselves, based on international best practice around what age it’s safe to treat women,” she says.

If the clinics said ‘no’ to an older woman, would she have grounds for discrimination under the Equal Status Act on the basis of ageism? “I don’t think she’d be successful,” says Madden. “I think there’s sufficient provision to allow clinics to make a distinction between a 60-year-old and a 40-year-old.”

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