Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Older Mothers Conference

If a bomb had dropped on the UCL yesterday, a big chunk of the international world of IVF would have been wiped out. The charismatic Dr Sammy Lee, the renowned clinical embryologist, who was an early pioneer of IVF (and is now interested in stem cell therapy and human cloning) organised a glamorous one-day conference and debate on "Motherhood in the 21st century" inside the guarded university's Anatomy Department.


I arrived at the university's JZ Young Lecture Theatre the same time as Lord Professor Robert Winston (Professor of Science and Society and Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College) who was giving the conference's opening address and the cultural historian, Shere Hite, one of the conference's diverse speakers. Although she is a revolutionary feminist, she looks and acts like Marilyn Monroe and immediately had all the men eating out of her hand. It's incredible to think her first book, the infamous, "The Hite Report" sold 48 million copies worldwide. No wonder she looks like a million dollars. (I asked her if she would ever consider having herself cloned, but she said she would have to know more about it).

The actual conference explored the reasons why some women choose to become mothers late in life. The speakers focused on some of the ethical issues: i.e. 'is it good for the parents? Is it good for the child? Is there a different standard applied to elderly mothers as opposed to elderly fathers?' Health and safety issues were also addressed, including the health risks associated with older women getting pregnant, increased risks of high blood pressure, diabetes, developmental problems with the placenta and need for Caesarean section, etc.

The entertaining Dr Ray Nobel (the Senior Lecturer/Graduate Tutor Obstetrics and Gynaecology, UCL; Medical ethicist) conducted the debate in the afternoon).

'What a panel!' he exclaimed.

I had to agree with him, as the conference speakers included some of the globe's famous scientists and infertility gynecologists including - here comes the name checks: Dr Gulam Bahadur, (Head of Fertility & reproductive Medicine Laboratories, UCL), the charming Peter Brinsden (Medical Director, Bourn Hall Clinic), Professor John Carroll, the Associate Dean, Division of Bioscienes, UCL, Professor Gedis Grudzinskas (Formerly Chair of Obsteric & Gynaecology at St Bart's and the Royal London Hospitals, as well as of The Bridge Centre. Now in private practice in Harley Street, and current editor of RBM Online), Dr Joyce Harper (formerly of the London Fertility centre), Professor Dr Shere Hite, Professor Sammy Lee, Dr Menabawey, who confided he owes his entire career to Sammy Lee, Professor N Pandiyan (Chief Consultant, reproductive Medicine, Chettinad Hospital & Research Institute) who had flown over from India just for the conference, 'the Big Cheese' Professor Claudio Stern (Head of Research Dept., Cell & Development Biology, UCL), Dr John Swann (Senior embryologist, Royal Free Hospital) and the dishy Dr Paul Serhal (Medical Director, UCL Fertility Unit).

If a woman was desperate to go through the expensive rigmaroles of an IVF baby, this conference was the place to be. Although one doc stood up during the debate and raised a few laughs by saying:

'A thirty-nine year old woman friend told me she wanted to get her eggs frozen, so I advised her to meet the right partner as soon as possible and have a baby the natural way.'

The London's Global University laid on a delicious lunch and dinner , and I never knew that the world of IVF and academia could be so entertaining. Thanks Sammy for an uplifting day and I know who to come to if I want twins at the age of seventy!

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