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Parenting the parental desire?

Date:22 JAN 2010

Article by Penny Booth

The newspapers earlier this week (see the Times, Monday January 18 2010, The Express, Tuesday 19 January 2010, but do pick your own version of the news, by all means) ran a story about IVF age limits and the use of the technology of fertility by 'ageing' parents - mothers in particular. Technology is a wonderful thing - it has enabled individuals and couples to feel that their lives have been fulfilled through being able to overcome fertility problems and resolve genetic issues by using ingenuity in medical developments. Whilst many doctors reject calls for age limits on IVF (each case is certainly individual, that is true) it is surely the case that at some point we must consider this issue of age limits on fertility treatment. It is a worrying development and possibility/probability that children are brought into the world (and deliberately so, not just by act of nature and 'happenchance') when their parent is of an age when they might be looking forward to a quieter life and a decent retirement. The chances are that the older parent is not going to be able to see their child through to adulthood. Whose job is it, then? Children are great and having children is a wonderful experience - but it is exhausting, frustrating, frightening and the biggest responsibility you could possibly have - but it is the(eir) parents' responsibility and not mine - I have my own to see to...

It now seems possible, according to fertility experts, to have babies until one is collecting a pension - certainly able to claim reduced fare on public transport - if you are healthy enough. Nobody questions much the man who fathers a child at pensionable age (the 'nudge-nudge, wink-wink' is usually regarded as complimentary for men) but women who let it be known that they are hoping to or expecting a baby after the age of 50 (or approaching 60?) are regarded as strange, often selfish, possibly needing help and certainly in need of gratuitous advice from the rest of us.

Seriously though, isn't this something we should be discussing? Children DO 'belong', in the sense of 'responsibility', to their parents, but if something happens to the parents and they are not able to look after the children, then the responsibility falls to the rest of us. That alone gives us a collective right to consider this issue and think about whether it is now time to set limits on non-urgent treatment of this nature - treatment which can have consequences far beyond the perfectly reasonable desire to reproduce oneself and found a family. Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should do it - and certainly not without thinking about the implications.

Penny Booth 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.