How Old is Too Old for Motherhood?

Maria del Carmen Bousada has died.  She was 69.  In her death, Bousada has left behind twin boys who are not yet three years old.  Young twins?  Yes.  Bousada became a mother at age 66 through in vitro fertilization.  You can read an article about her death here.

This situation should cause us all to stop and think about the legal and ethical issues involved.

First, there are the legal questions.  Should there be an age limit on who is eligible for procedures such as in vitro fertilization?  There currently is no law in the U.S. that would prohibit a woman of any age from undergoing this procedure.  The clinic in L.A. that performed the process on Bousada has a cutoff age of 55, but Bousada simply lied about her age to get around it.  If we establish a legal cutoff age, would it not be age discrimination?

Secondly, there are the ethical concerns.  Should a woman have a child at such an advanced age?  The likelihood of her death is very high, so the probability of her caring for the children long-term is extremely low.  Should a person who knows they are unlikely to be able to offer long-term care seek to have children?  If not, how does this apply to younger would-be moms who are battling illnesses such as cancer, but are considering having a child?

As we consider the issue, we must not only think of the rights of the mother, but also the rights and welfare of the child(ren).  Should laws, or our ethical reasoning, be influenced by doing what is best for the children involved, or should we only focus on the mother?

What are your thoughts?

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9 Responses to How Old is Too Old for Motherhood?

  1. Kelsey says:

    If we’re going to ask these questions, we also need to ask about all the older fathers out there who are married to much younger women. A few years ago, Newsweek ran an article about the dramatic rise of men becoming first-time fathers in their seventies. I think it seems more dramatic when the mother is older because she’s the one giving birth, but the implications are the same regardless of which parent is advanced in age Either way, having children at such an advanced age seems unfair to the child, who might spend most of their life without one or both of the parents.

  2. Tim Farley says:

    Kelsey:

    I think you have a good point. I think it makes sense to ask about the father as well. However, I do think we usually associate the mother as the primary caregiver – which is why children almost always go to the mother in a divorce.

    In regards to fathers, there are definitely ethical issues involved that should be considered. But you may have a more difficult time making legal restrictions (if you believe legal restrictions are appropriate) on fathers since they usually are able to become fathers naturally (rather than through medical procedures) even late in their lives.

  3. brelarow says:

    I don’t think its a question that we have to ask. I think the amount of people that would have children at this age and pay for the procedure is very small. “she raised $59,000 to pay for in vitro fertilization”

    While I think its sad this children are orphaned, there are more pressing ways to make sure kids have functional parents.

  4. ShannonB says:

    Ethical? Legal? Politically correct? It’s too broad. Who are we to say? Sounds like she loved and cared well for those children. And in their young lives they knew her as their mother. Is it ethical for a young woman to have a baby when she’s addicted to drugs or alcohol and then they grow up for years in that environment while most like living in abusive or at least very dysfunctional lives? Even without substance abuse a child may be raised by an unfit mother and/or father. Or end up being raised by their grandparents because the parents are unfit or have died.

    How many children lose a mother, father (even both at once), maybe either to disease, an accident or whatever unexpected means? How many mothers have died giving birth without special circumstances? How about the the parents with 13 special needs adopted children who were just murdered in Florida. We don’t have much control of how and when our time on earth is to end.

    This is a perspective I face daily as I fight my cancer. I’m 42. I literally dropped dead a year and a half ago from a sudden cardiac arrest, but made it through that simply because God was not ready for me. I had been fearing death by cancer, but it could have ended right there. And my husband would be left to care for our 2 children who are now 10 and 14. But the likely reality of my situation is that I will die from my cancer. When? I don’t know. Will I see my kids to age 18 or older? I don’t know. I sure hope so. But statistically at my stage and the cancer keeps coming back. I’m leaving it to God, which isn’t easy. But it’s the only comfort I’m given as a believer.

    So, is it appropriate? I really couldn’t say. Are they believers? Can they be witnesses by the circumstances in their lives? I can, even when it pains me to think of what I might miss in my children’s lives. Who will they be from the circumstances we’ve been put in through these trials. What kind of witnesses are they now or will they be because of how they’ve seen me and Mike. We have grown immensely in our spiritual life. God does not discriminate on age. None of it seems fair, but what can we do but live and hopefully in a way pleasing to God.

    ShannonB

  5. Tim Farley says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments. I really am not sure how I feel about this situation. I do not think this can rightly be made a legal issue. However, I do think there are ethical implications involved. This mother knew that the likelihood of her being able to raise her children long-term was very low. With the average age of women around 75 or 76, she was aware that she would most likely only live 9 or 10 years after giving birth. This is a much different circumstance than a 30 year old mom who dies in an accident or by an unsuspected illness. Yes, it is always a possibility that a young parent can die and leave a child behind, but the chances are much lower and must be evaluated differently.

    We can argue that she loved the children for the nearly three years she was alive, but how loving is it that she knew she would likely leave them behind at a young age? I could argue that she was being selfish as well.

    All that being said, the thing that seems apparent from the article is that there was/is a plan in place to care for the children now. I think as long as that is true, we should reserve judgement. While the situation is not ideal, the children are being cared for and have not been totally abandoned. This mom showed that she loved her kids while she was alive and she continues to show that she loves them by making sure they are cared for now that she is gone.

  6. aaron says:

    I am not understanding the Theological tie-in here. Tim may know, but does the bible give a top age for child bearing? I know that most women then gave birth at a very young age. Mary was probably 13-14. The bible also encourages procreation, period.

    Legally, this would further infringe upon our personal freedoms. For better or worse, we have to accept a certain amount of bad in order to have what is good. The goverment is already way to deep in our homes, lives, and bodies.

    Ethically, while on the surface, I agree is seems odd, as I write this a WWI vet died at 113 YO today. Are we to not have kids because we “might’ be near natural death? Maybe firefighters, soldiers, crab fishermen, and other people high risk occupations should not have kids as well since they might die. You could get hit by a bus tomorrow.

  7. Tim Farley says:

    Aaron:

    I am sure you will agree that our understanding of God (theology) has huge implications on our morality/ethics. As Christians, we are ethically bound to do what is best for others (in this case the children), rather than only thinking of oursleves. I simply ask if there are ethical implications that one should consider in a situation like this.

  8. jeremiah17 says:

    You look at legal, then ethic, but forget faith? Sarah was in her 90’s right?

  9. Tim Farley says:

    Sarah’s pregnancy was a miracle. The Bible is clear on that. Do we pattern our lives after the exceptions? Besides, I said that the woman had every right to have the child as long as she had palnned for its long-term care in the event that she died at a “nromal” age, which she did.

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