Reacting to frequent news about very old Indian women becoming mothers, the Fertility Society of Australia has expressed deep concerns about the quality control and ethics followed by many IVF clinics in India. The head of a fertility society in India has also expressed concerns about geriatric pregnancies, bemoaning the fact that IVF clinics only have 'guidelines' to go by, and no clear laws of governance.
“Having a baby at 74 is a silly thing to do,” says Dr. Michael Chapman, one of Australia’s senior-most IVF specialists.
Dr Chapman, in an interview with SBS Punjabi, elaborated on a report published by the Fertility Society of Australia (FSA) this September, which strongly condemned some aspects of IVF treatment in India.
FSA is the peak body that represents professionals in the field of reproductive medicine in Australia and New Zealand. Dr Chapman was the president of the body until October.
Daljinder Kaur, a 72-year-old woman from Punjab gave birth to her first child by way of IVF in 2017.
More recently, a 74-year-old woman in Andhra Pradesh became a mother to twin girls through IVF, making her the world’s oldest woman to give birth.
FSA has called this "a reckless medical and social practice", as assisted reproductive technology is being offered to "women over the age of menopause."
Speaking to SBS Punjabi, Dr Chapman says, “The general view amongst clinicians in Australia would be that treating a 74-year-old (for fertility) is probably unethical. There has to be a balance between what she wants in terms of children and the risks to those children in terms of not having a mother in the near future.”
“The risk of an elderly woman carrying a baby, particularly with twins, and pregnancy risks like high blood pressure and diabetes, would be risks that could be potentially life-threatening. This certainly could not happen in Australia,” adds the Sydney-based specialist.
Commenting on the most recent IVF birth from Andhra Pradesh in India, Dr Chapman says this is something that wouldn’t happen in Australia due to the prevalent strict code of ethics and annual accreditation checks.
Dr Chapman highlights that the social stigma of being childless is often the driving force behind aged women opting for IVF births.
And India, he says, is not the only country where such social pressures are felt.
“That driving force can make people do very silly things,” he comments.
SBS Punjabi has also contacted the the New Delhi-based Indian Fertility Society for their comments on the statement released by FSA.
Dr. M. Gouri Devi, the president of the Indian Fertility Society was also not in favour of geriatric pregnancies, but concedes that due to the lack of any law governing fertility treatment in India, doctors often get pressured by patients into conducting procedures on them.
"Every country has a cap on the age limit of women opting for IVF but in India there is no law governing this. So all we follow is a set of guidelines by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) which says the age limit for IVF treatment is 45. But older patients counter this and question us that 'if 'I’m hale and hearty at 50, why can’t I be treated for infertility'," says Dr Devi.
She goes on further to give her opinion as the head of a major fertility treatment body in India.
"I too believe that enabling geriatric pregnancies like the recent one of a 74-year-old woman in Andhra Pradesh is wrong. While I agree that it is the right of a woman to procreate, but as a 70-plus woman, she should have known what she was in for. So, as a president of a fertility society, I'm of the view that doctors should only conduct procedures in which there is no harm done to the parents as well as the baby. Since we have no law on IVF here, it is at the discretion of the fertility specialist. But we should go by ICMR’s guidelines," Dr Devi explains.
Taking a dim view of the ethics and standards of fertility clinics in India, Dr Chapman says that some medical practitioners who have done only 10-20 IVF cycles consider themselves “fertility experts”.
“Unfortunately, India doesn’t have a regulatory organisation or rules to oversee individual clinics. There has been a proliferation of clinics in India and many of them are very small and one cannot vouch for the safety and success rates of those clinics,” elaborates Dr. Chapman, who has been practising IVF treatments in Australia for 33 years now.
Asked about the accessibility and better affordability of IVF treatments in India, which may lead aspiring parents there, Dr Chapman struck a cautionary note.
“I think affordability is an issue although with Medicare in Australia, IVF is not particularly expensive. But if you are not an Australian citizen or permanent resident, and ineligible for Medicare, then certainly going back to India would be the way to go in terms of cost. With the proliferation of IVF clinics in India, people will certainly find a place in their hometown but I wouldn’t guarantee the safety and success of their treatment,” warns Dr Chapman.
He also assured those who resort to travelling to India for IVF treatment, that they’ll be looked after just as well any other pregnant woman in Australia would.
Click on the player at the top of the page to listen to this interview in English.