USC PHYSICIANS STUNNED the world this spring by announcing that a 63-year-old woman in their care had given birth to a healthy baby girl late last year.
The April announcement touched off a flurry of international press coverage, and it was front-page news in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Newsday and USA Today as well as network television news. ABCs Nightline devoted an evenings program to the story, and Richard Paulson, who directed the patients care, appeared live on NBCs Today show and CBS This Morning.
Paulson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and his colleagues believe that their patient represents the oldest successful pregnancy on record. The baby, delivered by Caesarean section last November, weighed 6 pounds 4 ounces.
THE PATIENT IS a Southern California resident who has been married to her 60-year-old husband for 16 years. They have no other children.
When she first came to the USC Program for Assisted Reproduction, she represented herself as being 50 years old 10 years younger than she actually was. Had she disclosed her actual age, she would not have qualified for treatment at the USC program, which has an age limit of 55. Only after becoming pregnant did she reveal her true age to her obstetrician.
All women over the age of 45 who wish to undergo oocyte [egg] donation must first pass a series of rigorous tests to ensure that they are fit enough to withstand the stress of pregnancy, Paulson says.
This patient passed all the screening tests and produced multiple medical records from other institutions, all of which attested to her stated age of 53 at the time of infertility therapy. We had no reason to doubt her word, and we were not trying to set any records.
The average age of women coming to the clinic for oocyte donation is 43. Paulsons patient was 63 years and 2 weeks old at the time of embryo transfer, and 63 years and 9 months at the time of delivery. A previous case from Italy reported a successful pregnancy in a 62-year-old woman.
Medical literature documents fewer than 100 deliveries in women over age 50. Two successful births in women over age 60 have been reported, both in Italy.
It is remarkable that a 63-year-old can successfully conceive and adapt to the rigors of pregnancy sufficiently well to deliver a healthy baby at term, Paulson says.
It may be that women have not one, but two biological clocks the clock for the eggs and ovaries seems to run out much earlier than the one for the uterus. This is why oocyte donation works so well for women in their 40s and beyond.
Paulson believes that physicians should not be legally required to confirm the age of in vitro fertilization patients. Such regulation, he says, would prove harmful by straining the physician-patient relationship and could jeopardize the medical condition of women who are not entirely forth-coming in discussions with their doctors.