In The Field

ESHRE: How old is too old for IVF?

It’s expensive, there’s no guarantee of success, and it seems that, for women of a certain age, it might just be better not to bother spending the money at all. IVF, at least using a woman’s own eggs, should have an age limit of 44, some fertility experts are now claiming.

IVF is often used to help women the wrong side of 30 to overcome their declining fertility. But data on those receiving IVF in their 40s suggests that the rate of success diminishes effectively to zero beyond the mid-40s. Doctors led by Ronit Machtinger at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center calculate that, for a sample of 154 IVF attempts carried out on women aged 45, less than 2% resulted in pregnancy, and two-thirds of pregnancies miscarried. For every successful pregnancy, almost half a million dollars had been spent by women in the sample group. Compare that with an average cost-per-pregnancy of $14,000 for women under 35.

A similar study at the University of New South Wales in Australia also concluded that 45 seems to be the cutoff point after which women should be advised not to even attempt IVF using their own eggs.

Sceptics of fertility treatment might argue that this is Mother Nature trying to tell us something. But that’s not to say that older women can’t become pregnant by IVF – it’s just that they would be advised to use somebody else’s eggs to do it. Britain’s oldest mother became pregnant after receiving IVF treatment using donated eggs, and although doctors are reluctant to treat women who may not be likely to live to see their child grow up, there is currently no legal age limit for motherhood, artificial or otherwise.

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