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Penny Booth: Pregnant Pauses

Date:3 NOV 2010

Penny Booth

Well, let's start with a few weeks ago... 'Womb transplant hope for millions' ('of women', I should add). That was the headline in a paper just three weeks ago. Apparently, within two years the successful animal trials with the research based at a Swedish University Hospital will lead to a human trial and potential patients are already lined up and waiting. It raises the prospect of male pregnancies - roll on improved ante-natal benefits and care, then? Oh, how cynical - and adding wombs to the list of harvestable organs.

One may not like to think of this but we ought to consider ethics to be a subject to grapple with (soon). Fibroids, cancer treatment, non-working wombs, etc, all affect women with fertility problems. An affordable health service ought to be utilised to do what it can to help those who would like to have a family - but it isn't a ‘right', and I do not think it unproblematic to be slipping into thinking that it is.

There is apparently an IVF ‘boom' for women aged around and over 50 (ONS statistics suggest a 55% increase in 2009). The very thought makes me go cold. I found the onset of motherhood tough enough in my mid-twenties, and I felt fit and healthy enough to manage youngsters, with plenty of years in the engine to manage the teenagers a dozen years after the birth of the second child. What it must be like to have teenagers as one's children when you reach 65 I don't like to think. At least when you have any grandchildren around at that age, you can ship them back to their parents after a while.

From the report in the Sunday Times this week (page 11, on 31 October) it seems that more than 100 women aged over 50 are giving birth in a single year and often using donated eggs or embryos from younger women. The NHS does not fund treatment for the over 39s, most clinics will not offer treatment for the over 50s - so these patients must be paying. So that's all right, then? Egg sharing and donation to reduce the price of treatment for the donor is fine so long as one does not regard that in itself as indicating a lack of freely-given consent.

We worry about free consent in prenuptial agreements, and Sandra Davis is correct when she points out that times have changed, as has family law, but whether any of these consents really are freely given or proper agreements may be open to debate.

There is a ‘morning-after' pill available online for use up to five days after sex to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Whether this is controlled, avoidance of prescription and health advice or the response to acts of desperation one is not really sure. Apparently the online diagnosis is completed and then reviewed by a doctor, and it is under challenge elsewhere in Europe. It just seemed to me that the news about family (re)formation was giving some mixed messages simply because we have not debated what we want and can afford.  

Family law and lawyers need to be vigilant. Have ‘rights' overtaken reasonable and responsible health treatment affecting families and their members? Health treatment should be afforded and affordable. Alas, I suspect it will be for those who can. Ethics should not be hived off for worthy committees - it ought to be thought about before we can and do, the point at which it is too late to wonder whether we ‘should'.         

Time for a pause - pregnant or otherwise.

Penny sets the questions for Family Law journalCPD, a new way to gain CPD points by answering multiple choice questions based on the content of the journal.

She is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.