- - Sunday, April 19, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Many women delay the births of their children, some to get a firmer footing in a career or to take more time to find the right someone with whom to share a blessed adventure. Some women wait until their late 30s or even the early 40s. But Mother Nature did not give women the option of bearing children and enjoying them forever. That’s why God invented grandparents.

Annegret Raunigk, a 65-year-old German woman, didn’t get the memo. With the help of Ukrainian doctors, and in vitro fertilization, she is expecting not one child, not two, or even three, but quadruplets. Ms. Raunigk hadn’t been deprived of the miracle of giving birth; she had already borne 13 children. She wanted her 9-year-old daughter to get the younger sister or brother she had been asking for. German law won’t permit in vitro fertilization for women at her advanced age, so she went doctor-shopping in Ukraine.

German medical doctors are in an uproar, some calling Ms. Raunigk irresponsible, others that she is merely unwise. The politicians, as they always do, are weighing in. “I consider this to be a very questionable case,” Karl Lauterbach, a leading Social Democrat, tells the German newspaper Spiegel. “Such a pregnancy cannot be allowed to become an example for anyone to follow.”

Social media in Germany is ablaze with the story of the “elderly” woman who is in her fifth month of pregnancy, and in the United States there’s sensation and speculation in newspapers and websites. Apart from the reach for hyperbole — Ms. Raunigk will be the oldest woman in the world to give birth to quadruplets — the most compelling concern is about the welfare of the babies to come and the children still in her care. Ms. Raunigk’s oldest child is 43.

In an interview with a German television channel, Ms. Raunigk, who is both a mother and a grandmother, says she’s “of the opinion that everyone should live their life as they want to. Because this possibility exists and is used by thousands of people, I’m allowed to use it, too.”

True enough, but before other women try this at home they should be aware of the risks, beginning with her age (65 may be the new 55, but it is not the new 45), and there’s the important fact that she received donations of both egg and sperm. Giving birth to quadruplets under any circumstances carries added risks. Frank Louwen, secretary of the German Society for Gynecology and Obstetrics tells the London Guardian that “risks for the babies include cerebral bleeding, paralysis, and sight and hearing problems.”

Ms. Raunigk nevertheless says she can do as she wishes. “I don’t interfere in anyone else’s life and I don’t expect them to interfere in mine.” Many doctors think she misses the point. “The 65-year-old body is definitely not designed to carry a pregnancy, not of one child and certainly not of quadruplets,” says Dr. Holger Stepan, head of obstetrics at the University of Leipzig.

There’s biblical precedent for births by really older women. The 17th chapter of the Book of Genesis says that when Sarah bore Isaac she was 90, Abraham was 100. She lived to be 127. We presume this was fodder for the stone tablets, if not the tabloids, which were still waiting to be invented. We wish Ms. Raunigk well, and urge her to get on with her knitting. She’ll need lots of booties.

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