Upper Age Limits on IVF and ‘Good’ Mothers

Angel Petropanagos warns of the danger of smuggling moral arguments in under the guise of medical ‘facts’ in the advanced maternal age debate.


Advancements in assisted reproductive technologies are extending the boundaries of biological reproduction. With the help of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and donor eggs an increasing number of women their forties, fifties, and sixties are bearing children. Pregnancy at an advanced maternal age has been controversial, to say the least. The growing trend towards older first time mothers has prompted individuals and professional medical associations to consider whether there is a ‘need’ for an upper age limit on women’s access to assisted reproduction and, if so, what that age limit should be.

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine recommends an upper age limit of 55 for women’s access to assisted reproduction. Canadian professional medical associations have been silent when it comes to upper age limits, and women’s access to assisted reproduction is generally left to the discretion of individual fertility clinics. Many fertility clinics will not treat women in their fifties, but others have treated women in their mid-fifties. Quebec recently proposed a Bill that aims to ban women over the age of 42 from accessing IVF. This proposal has been criticized for being paternalistic, infringing on women’s reproductive rights, and being too low of an age limit. The outrage that has ensued from this proposed age limit has made the Health Minister reconsider the IVF age restriction.

If there is a need for an upper age limit, the imposition of a particular age limit will require strong justification.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.