Girls of 14 who want babies seek IVF treatment
By Andrew Alderson, in London
July 5, 2004
Girls as young as 14 are seeking fertility treatment on Britain's National Health Service because they have been unable to become pregnant after up to two years of sexual activity without contraception.
In one clinic in Swindon, west of London, four girls aged 14 were so desperate to have babies that they asked whether they could receive treatments such as in vitro fertilisation.
The requests, all in the past year, were made to Jo Heaton, a fertility specialist who runs a sexual health clinic for under-19s in the town.
"I found it absolutely extraordinary," she said.
It is illegal in Britain for children under 16 to have sexual intercourse. However, the police and other authorities rarely take action against youngsters, provided the acts are consensual and the participants are of a similar age.
There are no national statistics available for requests from teenagers for fertility treatment because, until now, such a notion seemed absurd.
However, Dr Heaton, a clinical assistant in sexual health, is convinced that if one small clinic, opening only once a week, has had so many inquiries then scores of teenage girls must be making similar requests all over the country.
Guidelines on when women should be given IVF on the NHS, provided by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, suggest it should be given only to women between 23 and 39 who have an identified cause for fertility problems, or who have suffered unexplained fertility problems for at least three years.
Dr Heaton said the four girls who approached her were concerned that they might be unable to conceive naturally.
Dr Heaton, 44, said she "gulped with amazement" when they told her they were seeking fertility treatment.
"I found it hard to know what position to take. It was tempting to say: 'You must be completely crazy. Why do you want a baby now?' However, we are not in a position to judge. We are there to help."
She added: "The impression I got was that they had a low self-esteem and low aspirations. It was almost as if they felt there was nothing in life they could achieve except to get pregnant. Then they would have a baby they could love and who would, in turn, love them."
Dr Heaton said that she understood the four girls had partners of a similar age. However, the girls went to the clinic on their own.
She said that while Government campaigns were aimed at encouraging the use of contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies, politicians had to recognise that there was a large group of young teenagers who desperately wanted to become pregnant.
The Telegraph, London