Good news for older moms

Study finds that single-embryo IVF technique works just as well in women in their late 30s.

Published June 1, 2006 10:13PM (EDT)

It's been a good week for older women. First, Newsweek admitted that they can get married, after all. Now, a Finnish study shows that in vitro fertilization involving the transfer of only a single embryo works as well in women age 36 to 39 as in their younger sisters. The current practice is to transfer several embryos to the womb, which increases the chances of a pregnancy -- but also heightens the risk of multiple births, which can be dangerous for the mother and babies.

"If you have a good embryo, no matter what the age of the mother, you still are getting very good results," Abe Shahim, an OB-GYN with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told Health Day News.

The study found that the same percentage of older women as younger women -- about one-third -- became pregnant after one cycle of what's known as "elective single-embryo transfer." And the live birth rate of 26 percent in the older group was similar to the younger group's 27 to 30 percent.

However, Shahim, who urged more research on women over 40, said he doubted that Americans would embrace single-embryo transfers, since many patients pay for the cycles themselves and want the "highest success rate on each cycle."

Speaking of the cost of fertility treatments, the Arizona Republic published an excellent series on the alarming price inflation for eggs. For example, donors in the Phoenix area used to command about $2,500 a few years ago, but now the average price has been driven up to $3,500, especially as out-of-state companies routinely offer up to $10,000, according to Drew Moffitt, president of Arizona Reproductive Medicine Specialists. He blames "egg hunters" on Internet egg-donor sites, which advertise "hot and smart" donors.

For example, one San Diego company, A Perfect Match, recently offered $7,500 to female Arizona State University students with good SAT scores. The company allegedly has offered Ivy League students with good grades $50,000 for their eggs.

Now, Arizona fertility clinics are worried about a supply shortage, especially as demand continues in California, which Diana Thomas, owner of the egg-donor company X&Y Consulting, based in Phoenix, calls a "mad house." Many prospective parents, including many foreigners, want a "California woman" type, she tells the Republic.

Are these prices simply an example of the competitive market at work? Or are they abominable, and another reason to call for increased regulation of what Harvard economist Debora L. Spar calls the "commerce of conception." What do you think?

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at

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