July 15, 2009
Oldest Mother Dies At 69 Leaving Twin 2 Year Olds

The hormone treatment she underwent to reverse menopause seems a likely cause of the cancer that killed her. Maria del Carmen Bousada died of a tumor that showed up a few months after she gave birth.

A Spanish woman who became the world's oldest mother at the age of 66 has died of cancer just two-and-a-half years after giving birth to twins, raising fresh questions about the ethics of fertility treatment for women past natural childbearing age.

Maria del Carmen Bousada, a single mother and retired sales assistant from Cádiz, southern Spain, leaves behind her orphan sons, Pau and Christian.

Should it be legal for women to have children that they can't possibly be expected to raise to adulthood? I do not think so. What do you think?

Her brother is in his 70s. The kids will probably end up getting adopted at some point.

Medical ethicist Kerry Bowman of the University of Toronto in responding to Bousada's death mentions that women who have had a few rounds of cancer are trying to make babies. Instinct overrules reason.

“It's an extremely hard call,” Dr. Bowman says. “The argument can be, you're too old, you don't have the energy, vitality, it's not fair to the children and you may die. Having said that, we see patients [who are younger] that have had one, two and even three rounds of cancer who are choosing to go forward and have children. Would we refuse those patients?”

Reproductive technology is defeating some of the restraints that aging places on reproductive capabilities of humans. Those restraints served the useful purpose of preventing physically less fit mothers from making babies they wouldn't be around to raise. Defeating nature isn't always wise. But the technological capability to defeat nature isn't always accompanied with the wisdom of knowing when to accept natural restraints.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 July 15 09:02 PM  Bioethics Reproduction


Comments
TangoMan said at July 15, 2009 11:58 PM:

I'd be very interested in reading the opinions of feminists. If they argue that it's permissible for laws to restrict the reproductive freedom of elderly women, then how is reproductive freedom an unabridgable right in the abortion debate?

Simon said at July 16, 2009 12:47 AM:

Tough call. When you start defining "fit" you get into the realm of eugenics.

There might be a distinction to be made between sterilizing low IQ women (which used to be done in North America pre-1950's), and witholding positive reproductive technology. *But* that distinction is not all that firm, at least theoretically.

For example: should reproductive technology be withheld from a low IQ women who needs help to conceive if it was predicted her child would have a >50% chance of being taken into care, perhaps permanently?

painlord2k said at July 16, 2009 6:35 AM:

Women must retain the liberty to have as many children as they are able to conceive and deliver.
Limiting this is a recipe for disaster and state meddling.
What must change is the welfare state. There must be not obligation for people to pay for raising the children of others.

D. C. Toedt said at July 16, 2009 1:21 PM:

@painlordk says: "There must be not [sic] obligation for people to pay for raising the children of others."

I'm no fan of state regulation of private matters either. But I don't think what you're proposing is politically realistic (for which I'm glad).

Moreover, if you want to talk about a recipe for social disaster, all we have to do is turn a blind eye as thousands or millions of malnourished and under-educated kids grow up to an under-employed, discontented, and angry adulthood.

Randall Parker said at July 16, 2009 6:27 PM:

painlord2k,

Since the majority obviously opposes the end of the welfare state I think we have to accept it as a given and consider how other policies will change behavior given the existence of the welfare state.

Every form of irresponsible behavior that is legalized creates more of a burden on the rest of us to pay for the consequences.

D. C. Toedt,

I'm more worried about the fact that the parents of the poorest kids are the sorts of parents that they are. The welfare state can't do much about what happens at home and what happens at school can't compensate for that.

Simon said at July 16, 2009 8:26 PM:

Public intervention for the children of unfit parents actually predates the welfare state (at least in Canada). The first organizations in Toronto that tried to supervise families of alcoholics, prostitutes etc. were formed in the 1890's, and were based on private charity. I sure the trend was similar elsewhere.

This kind of benevolent concern for the children of others seems to have come about with large scale urbanization (and now, technology).

Mthson said at July 17, 2009 10:00 AM:

"The welfare state can't do much about what happens at home and what happens at school can't compensate for that."

My nature is to dislike the welfare state, but I think it makes sense that it can reduce instability and stress in the environments in which kids grow up. Stress interferes with brain development and can help put kids on an antisocial or unproductive life path.

Looking forward, though, once we have reprogenetics and neurotech, kids will be much less vulnerable to unstable rearing environments. I think this girl is an example of what that will look like. She grew up homeless, but scored in the 99th percentile in 3rd grade and is now heading to Harvard (LATimes, 2009).

Randall Parker said at July 17, 2009 7:30 PM:

Mthson,

The United States has experienced a huge increase in incarceration rates since crime started rising in the 1960s. This happened in spite of better access to food and food fortification.

Less stress makes kids better behaved? Well, the welfare state has fueled a huge increase in illegitimate births and with over 40% of babies in the US now born to single mothers I do not see how the welfare state has decreased stress.

The problem is that the welfare state decreases the disincentives for destructive behaviors.

Nick G said at July 17, 2009 10:42 PM:

The United States has experienced a huge increase in incarceration rates since crime started rising in the 1960s. This happened in spite of better access to food and food fortification.

Sure. We had a problem - people needed jobs. So we passed laws making things illegal, or making sentences harsher. That put more people in the criminal justice system, and put lots of other people to work as prosecutors, defenders, correctional officers, probation officers, etc, etc. Solved that problem!

the welfare state has fueled a huge increase in illegitimate births

It didn't increase births (teenage birth is at an alltime low). It's possible it decreased marriage. Or, maybe incarceration and poverty on the part of fathers did that.

Randall Parker said at July 17, 2009 11:34 PM:

Nick G,

So getting tough on crime wasn't a reaction to high crime rates? It was just a way to create jobs? Here's a good overview of crime rates in the US from 1960 to 2002. He doesn't mention it but one reason murder fell before assault is advances in trauma treatment technologies.

You can see a chart of murder rate in the US from 1950 to 2005. We've only managed to bring it down by a huge increase in the incarceration rate. An aging population helps too.

A longer term view shows America had a far lower murder rate in the year 1900.

Incarceration rates.

Nick G said at July 18, 2009 3:56 PM:

So getting tough on crime wasn't a reaction to high crime rates?

No, I really don't think it was. The modern movement to get tough on crime started in the mid-60's - the national symbol was New York's dramatic tightening of drug laws at that time. Take a look at the murder rate: no change from 1950 to 1965. Also, keep in mind the warning on your source about the ramping up in crime rates being counfounded by reporting problems.

I'd say that incarceration is more likely to increase crime than lower it. Compare the incarceration trend with the crime trend: incarceration sharply rose from 1975 to 1990, even while crime rates were also increasing. Why should incarceration get the credit for the decline after 1990?

It was just a way to create jobs?

Well, I was being simplistic for effect. It's much more complex than that, but another way of saying it is that what one of your sources called the "crime control industry" is not run for the benefit of victims or criminals, but for the benefit of a lot of others.

First, it's helpful to remember that a very large percentage of those involved in the criminal justice system, perhaps more than half, are there because of the "war on drugs". As your last source notes, "In 2000, 21% of state prisoners and 57% of federal prisoners were incarcerated for drug offenses." A large port of the remainder are there because of crime that's related to drugs.

2nd, keep in mind the parallel between Prohibition and the modern drug war. The Valentine's Day Massacre is a good symbol of how the creation of a drug black market raises crime rates.

3rd, it's helpful to think of the need for a "bogeyman" in domestic politics. Politicians, and the interest groups that support them, need "enemies". Sometimes such a need is filled by The Red Menace, or Terrorism. A classic example is the Kennedy Missile Gap (please note that this phenomenon is bipartisan), which turned out to be completely fictitious. I've seen research that documents that there is an inverse correlation between media coverage of Menacing Drug Dealers and coverage of International Terrorism.

Nick G said at July 18, 2009 4:37 PM:

4th, the criminal justice system is a strong advocate for its employment and other financial interests.

A classic case of this is drug-related property confiscation. It happens before trial, and the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove innocence and reclaim property. The property (or proceeds from its sale) is used by the confiscating agency, in an extraordinary conflict of interest which has produced enormous abuse (as has been documented many times).

The first well-known example of such abuse in US history? The 1692 Salem witch trials, which were fueled by prosecutorial confiscation of victim's property, and which produced the metaphor of a "witch hunt".

Nick G said at July 18, 2009 4:52 PM:

The Media are another participant in this ecosystem. Remember, "if it bleeds, it leads". Fear sells papers and boosts viewership.

A lot of people benefit from fear. Stranger Danger, Drug Dealers, Communists, Terrorists, the list goes on.

Nick G said at July 18, 2009 5:14 PM:

The Media are another participant in this ecosystem. Remember, "if it bleeds, it leads". Fear sells papers and boosts viewership.

A lot of people benefit from fear. Stranger Danger, Drug Dealers, Communists, Terrorists, the list goes on.

Randall Parker said at July 18, 2009 6:25 PM:

Nick G,

Honestly I think you are way way off base. Flaws in drug law enforcement are really besides the point. Look at murder rates and other major crime rates. I've pointed you at graphs of long term trends. Did you look at them?

A lot of people benefit from fear? What if the fear is rationally based. You are ignoring that.

I've read a lot on crime. I can make some good recommendations. Read James Q. Wilson's Thinking About Crime and his book with Richard Herrnstein Crime & Human Nature and also Charles Murray's Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980.

We had (still do have) a big crime problem. It caused the public to demand more prisons and more police. Criminality has risen by multiples and the huge prison system has become a necessary big expense for protecting us from it.

Mthson said at July 19, 2009 3:05 AM:

Randall, what do you think about legalizing marijuana? It seems like a large chunk of our crime problem is illusory. While marijuana might be a waste of time for most productive people, it seems reasonable that legalizing it channels "self-medication" toward it and away from the drugs that destroy people's souls, and slashes our unintentional funding of US and Mexican gangs.

Randall Parker said at July 19, 2009 10:46 AM:

Mthson,

I do not believe our prisons are overburdened due to drug laws. Sure, some people are in prison for petty violations. Sure, if drugs were legal lots of dealers and distributors would not be in jail. But drug laws were not the main cause of the rise in incarceration rates by multiples. That rise was caused by a rise in overall criminality that happened first.

Go dig up some tables on the web breaking down reasons for imprisonment by type of crime. I realize that is work. But if you want an opinion on this then it takes work to make your opinion correct.

One interesting point about drugs and crime: Over a quarter of all inmates report being under the influence of drugs at the time they committed the crime they were in jail for. Is there any cause and effect here? If so, which way does the cause and effect run? Are there types of drugs that would make criminals less likely to commit crime? Do other drugs loosen their already weak inhibitions against criminality? I rarely see the topic discussed in the drug legalization debates.

KenH said at July 19, 2009 6:09 PM:

I have to go with Nick G on this one. He seems an astute observer of the last few decades.

Randall Parker said at July 19, 2009 7:45 PM:

KenH,

You offer even less evidence (none) than Nick does for Nick's assertions. I know it is work. But an opinion backed up by research into the pertinent facts is worth far more than an opinion based on a feeling. In fact, if you dropped most of your opinions on subjects that are based merely on feelings you'd be a lot better off.

Mthson,

While drugs represent the plurality of arrests in 2007 they do not represent anywhere near the majority. Drug arrests amount to 13% of the total of 14.2 million arrests (which do not include traffic violations). Try looking for percentages of criminals in jails for various convictions. I know I've seen tables on this but can't find a good table on it now.

Nick G said at July 19, 2009 11:54 PM:

Randall,

Flaws in drug law enforcement are really besides the point.

I can see we have a long conversation ahead. I'm not talking about flaws in drug law enforcement. I'm talking about drug laws creating crime, by defining previously legal behavior as crime, and by creating black markets.

Look at murder rates and other major crime rates. I've pointed you at graphs of long term trends. Did you look at them?

Yes, I did, and tried to make specific responses. I'll try again.

1st, are you sure of the statistics? You're source says: "There may be some under-reporting in the earlier part of the table and graphs below. Although the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program began in 1930, not all law enforcement agences contributed reports from the beginning. So there may be an artificial ramp-up effect going on here. Conversely, a drop in crime is definitely real, and bigger than these figures would indicate."

In other words, the increase you're talking about may not be real.

2nd, The modern movement to get tough on crime started in the mid-60's - the national symbol was New York's dramatic tightening of drug laws at that time. Take a look at the murder rate: no change from 1950 to 1965. In the 50's there was a general perception that we were safe from crime. People left their doors unlocked, and mothers didn't watch their children like hawks. Also, keep in mind the warning on your source about the ramping up in crime rates being counfounded by reporting problems.

3rd, I'd say that incarceration is more likely to increase crime than lower it. Compare the incarceration trend with the crime trend: incarceration sharply rose from 1975 to 1990, even while crime rates were also increasing. Why should incarceration get the credit for the decline after 1990?

http://www.usnews.com/articles/science/culture/2009/07/17/juvenile-justice-system-breeds-adult-criminals.html

It's helpful to remember that a very large percentage of those involved in the criminal justice system, perhaps more than half, are there because of the "war on drugs". As your last source notes, "In 2000, 21% of state prisoners and 57% of federal prisoners were incarcerated for drug offenses." A large port of the remainder are there because of crime that's related to drugs. Keep in mind the parallel between Prohibition and the modern drug war. The Valentine's Day Massacre is a good symbol of how the creation of a drug black market raises crime rates.

What if the fear is rationally based.

I gave quite a few examples of irrational fear. Another: children are 3,000 times more likely to be kidnaped or assaulted by a family member as by a stranger. What do parents teach their children? Stranger danger.

As I noted above, murder rates were stable from 1950 to 1965. What happened in 1965? Politicians decided to further demonize drug addiction, and so public perceptions changed.

I've read a lot on crime.

I've observed the criminal justice system at close range for quite a few years. I've seen quite a bit of evidence that a great deal of it's behavior isn't related to the needs of victims or criminals.

I appreciate the references, and I'll take a look when I have the time. But, I'm confident that they're's a lot to what I'm saying. I think we'd both benefit from you're examining these ideas closely: You'd learn something new, and I'd get feedback to tighten them up.

I do not believe our prisons are overburdened due to drug laws.

Your source on incarceration rates says "In 2000, 21% of state prisoners and 57% of federal prisoners were incarcerated for drug offenses."

A large port of the remainder are there because of crime that's related to drugs. Keep in mind the distinction between random crime and organized crime. Why are blacks 7 times more likely to be either the perpetrator or victim of major crime? Because they're much more heavily involved in organized drug crime.

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