Age limit on assisted reproduction stirs up controversy

This week the lower house of Parliament passed a bill which would ban assisted reproduction or sperm donation after the age of forty. In a society where second and third marriages are common and people have embraced the Western trend of having children later in life the decision has caused plenty of controversy.

Are women over forty too old to have babies? And are men over forty too old to donate sperm for in vitro fertilization? Those are questions that are stirring up a heated debate not just among doctors but among the general public. Many couples who have problems conceiving often don't start treatment until their mid-thirties and sometimes it takes several years for them to achieve their goal. Over two thousand babies are born through assisted reproduction every year. The head of the assisted reproduction centre in Plzen, Vladimir Bouse says that both his male and female patients feel threatened by the bill, and that in the case of men he finds the restriction particularly hard to understand:

"Putting a ceiling on the age at which men can have a child seems to me like an infringement on their rights. I certainly hope that this is not the final say on this issue and that some directive will be issued to soften this very tough legislation"

The Health Ministry argues that the proposed age limit is intended to protect people from the health risks of having babies at a later age. Alena Kralikova of Gender Studies believes that people should be allowed to weigh up that risk with the help of their doctor and decide whether or not they are prepared to run it.

"I perceive it as a discriminatory step both in relation to women and men. We see from demographic reports that nowadays both men and women do tend to have children later in life. And I don't think the age factor should be decisive here. The state of one's health would be far more important. I don't think the law should set down an age bracket in which men and women can have children via assisted reproduction. I certainly think men can have children after age 40 and the same goes for women."

So you think it should be up to doctors to decide?

"I think it should be up to doctors and up to the individuals whom this concerns. I certainly do not think this should be decided by a law."

Many doctors who specialize in this field argue that the biological age of a person may differ radically from their real age, and that many women and men over forty are perfectly fit and able to have a healthy child. Moreover they say that in the present day any complications can be detected early. Parliament deputies appear to be somewhat taken aback by the force of public reaction to the bill. The head of the Health Committee in Parliament Jaroslav Krakora said it was possible that deputies had underestimated that particular article of the bill, which was part of a larger package allowing stem cell research and banning human cloning. He said many mps had already expressed interest in amending the age ceiling on assisted reproduction. "For men there should certainly be no age limit in this respect," the MP told journalists.