How Old is Too Old to Become a Mom?

Experts debate ethics of in vitro fertilization of older women.

ByABC News
February 16, 2007, 8:28 AM

Feb. 16, 2007 — -- When Dr. Vicken Sahakian met Carmela Bousada at his Los Angeles fertility clinic, it never occurred to him that his newest patient was also his oldest.

Bousada was 66 years old, but according to Sahakian she claimed to be 10 years younger in order to qualify for in vitro fertilization treatments.

After selecting egg and sperm donors who were decades younger than she was, Bousada had an embryo implanted in her uterus and was well on her way to becoming a mother.

In December, Bousada made headlines when she gave birth to twins. Now 67, she is widely believed to be the world's oldest person to give birth.

Bousada's babies were born seven weeks premature by Caesarian section at a hospital in Spain. The twins were healthy, though doctors had feared that Bousada might not survive the operation. They called family members to her hospital bedside just in case.

Sahakian, who was not present at the birth, said, "we are so lucky that it ended up going the way it did. Thank God everyone is healthy."

But Sahakian also said he never would have treated Bousada had he known her true age, because of the medical risks to the patient and her babies.

"I can't believe how irresponsible she was. I'm very angry with her," he said.

According to Sahakian, the paperwork Bousada filled out at the clinic included a birth date of May 1, 1950. Sahakian said he never asked her for identification because there was never a need for it.

"You go to a doctor for medical help," he said. "I am not an investigator. This is not a police state."

Still, Sahakian was willing to treat a woman he believed was in her mid-50s -- a practice other specialists say is precarious.

Fertility experts say few mainstream clinics treat women more than 50 years old because of health risks to the mother and the baby. Complications can include hypertension, diabetes, low birth rate and early delivery.

"Certain situations could be so serious that your kidneys could shut down and you could die," said Sahakian.

The fertility industry is largely unregulated. There are no laws restricting a patient's age -- only voluntary guidelines that doctors may choose to follow.