A Spanish woman who became the world’s oldest mother at the age of 66 has died of cancer just two-and-a-half years after giving birth to twins, raising fresh questions about the ethics of fertility treatment for women past natural childbearing age.
Maria del Carmen Bousada, a single mother and retired sales assistant from Cadiz, southern Spain, leaves behind her orphan sons, Pau and Christian. It was unclear who would look after them.
Bousada, who had reportedly been diagnosed with a tumor just a few months after the birth in December 2006, had been living with her sons in a one-bedroom apartment and was being helped by her brother and sister-in-law, who are both in their 70s. They lived off the 600 euros (US$845) she received for her pension and from child benefit payments. Her brother, Ricardo Bousada, reportedly said he had sold the rights to her story to a television company and that the proceeds would go towards raising the children.
Bousada became pregnant after repeated visits to a fertility clinic in Los Angeles, where she lied about her age. She told the Pacific Fertility Clinic that she was 55, the cut-off age. Bousada sold her apartment to pay for the treatment, which she did not start until her own mother, for whom she cared, had died.
An 18-year-old girl provided the egg and an Italian-American sperm donor provided the sperm so that, after hormone treatment to reverse menopause, an embryo could be implanted in her uterus.
“I picked them from photos in a catalogue,” she said of the donors. “It was a bit like studying an estate agent’s brochure and choosing a house.”
After a difficult pregnancy the twins were born by cesarean section at a clinic in Barcelona a week before her 67th birthday.
A 66-year-old new mother was “clearly pushing the boundaries of what nature intended,” said Tony Rutherford, chairman of the British Fertility Society.
Josephine Quintavalle from the Comment on Reproductive Ethics, a pro-life pressure group which campaigns on IVF issues in the UK, said a general unwillingness to accept the limits of ageing when it came to parenthood was a problem.
“We get older, it’s the human condition, accept it. Move on to the next stage of life and live it to the full, but don’t expect to be able to have children at any cost,” she said.
“If a woman in her late 60s announced she was going to go and play at Wimbledon she would be laughed at. Yet for some reason, when a woman of the same age decides she want to be a mother it’s OK,” Quintavalle said.
Bousada herself, who had never been married, told the News of the World that her family would look after the boys if she died.
“They will never be alone,” she said. “There are lots of young people in our family.”