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One For The Ages Motherhood At 63 Raises Moral And Ethical Concerns, But Few Doubt Her Commitment

Fri., April 25, 1997

At 63 years old, the world’s oldest new mom is dealing with night feedings and diaper rash. She will be 65 during the terrible 2’s and 76 during the rebellious teenage years. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll be around at 85 to see her daughter graduate from college.

When doctors confirmed Wednesday that the woman gave birth at 63, it raised questions about the ethical and practical ramifications of having a baby so late in life.

“I don’t know if she’s going to have energy for a baby,” said Maryann Fiore, who had triplets at age 45 and is now 50.

Speaking by telephone from her home in Caldwell, N.J., as her children yelled, “Mommy! Mommy!” in the background, Fiore said: “I was bestowed with a lot of energy. But at 63 it will be a little overwhelming, I think.”

“It raises a lot of moral and ethical questions,” said Dr. Matan Yemini, co-director of the Diamond Institute for Infertility and Menopause in Millburn, N.J. “What are we doing to society? If we’re bringing a baby to an older woman, later in life, when she’s older, who’s going to take care of her child?”

Dr. Mark Sauer, an infertility specialist at Columbia University’s medical school, said: “I lose my comfort level after 55, because I have to believe that there are quality-of-life issues involved in raising a child at the parent’s age. When the baby born in November is 5, her mother will be 68. And I have to believe that a 78-year-old dealing with a teenager may have some problems.”

For the doctor who heads the fertility program where the unidentified woman conceived, one of the more troubling questions is how to verify age.

The University of Southern California’s Program for Assisted Reproduction allows women up to 55 to participate, and this woman went to great lengths to hide her age.

At the outset, she presented doctors with “multiple medical records” indicating she was 50, when she was actually 60. It wasn’t clear whether she altered the records or simply gave other doctors the bogus age, too.

“I think we’re going to look at the medical records very carefully, and now we’re going to consider the possibility someone might be deceiving us,” said Richard Paulson, director of the USC program. “But I think if someone wants to deceive you, they will.”

The woman conceived after an anonymous donor’s egg was fertilized with sperm from her husband. Her own eggs had probably deteriorated by the time she tried to become pregnant around 47, Paulson said.

The healthy baby girl was delivered late last year by Caesarean section, and the mother breast-fed her.

Dr. Herminia S. Salvador, who delivered the baby, said she required the woman to come in for examination once a week throughout the pregnancy, compared to the usual once every four weeks.

“Whatever I told her to do, she did it,” Salvador said.

Paulson said he learned the woman’s true age when she was 13 weeks pregnant and never considered advising her to terminate the pregnancy. He said he wasn’t angry when he found out.

“If I were a guide taking someone up to Mount Everest and I said, ‘You couldn’t go unless you were under the age of 55,’ and I found out that I had taken someone up and back and they turned out to be 63, I’d say, ‘Gosh, good for them,”’ Paulson said.

Doctors developing the in-vitro fertilization procedure set USC’s age limit of 55 several years ago. That is about five years beyond the average age of menopause. USC arrived at 55 because there are no data on the risks of becoming pregnant and giving birth beyond that.

Paulson defended the age limit as “right about where the limit ought to be” and said he would oppose a government-set ceiling on when women can obtain a doctor’s help in conceiving.

“You’d run into all the other kinds of ramifications of a decision like that” - such as allegations of sexism, Paulson said.

After all, men can and do father children well into old age, and there’s no move to stop that.

Actor Tony Randall, who at age 77 became a father two weeks ago, said of the new mother: “She’s just a kid.”

Yemini said there is no reason to think the woman helped at USC can’t be a good mother. There is a good chance she will live well into her 80s or 90s, even beyond. And becoming a mother may extend her life, he said. Doctors noted the woman’s own mother is still alive.

Older people who raise their grandchildren are usually financially and emotionally stable, he said. “My experience is they are very mature, they are excellent parents,” he said. “They give a lot to their kids.”


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