FOR most women, the prospect of pregnancy at 59 would rank...


January 12, 1994

FOR most women, the prospect of pregnancy at 59 would rank closer to a nightmare than to a wish fulfilled. At that age, yearnings run more toward grandchildren than children. That's just as well, since nature puts limits on childbearing that make motherhood over 50 rare indeed.

Even so, the furor sparked by news that scientific advances made it possible for a 59-year-old British woman to give birth to twins is unseemly. Surely a mature, successful, affluent 59-year-old is a better candidate for motherhood than an unwed, uneducated adolescent.

To hear the critics rant, you'd think maternal instincts and abilities dry up after menopause. Sure, the twins born last month in Rome will have the oldest mother at parent gatherings through the years, but then plenty of children these days are raised by grandmothers well past 60. And no one seriously questions the ability of older men to be good fathers to young children.

A more fitting topic for debate is whether public funds -- or even private insurance -- should be used for the high-tech boost nature needs in a case like this. The British woman, however, paid for the procedures herself.

Even so, the French government was so alarmed by the prospect of older women giving birth that the government is seeking to outlaw efforts to help post-menopausal women become pregnant. "This is nothing less than a question of public order," fumed Jean-Louis Beaumont, a member of Parliament who is also dean of a medical faculty. "The government must get involved when the act of creating a human being does not adequately consider the future of that human being."

Calm down, Dr. Beaumont.

Responsible parenthood is one thing -- and we agree it's essential to public order. But if every parent had "adequately considered the future" of every child before conceiving, it would be a lonely planet indeed.

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