Bishnoi, the doctor in Haryana, has publicly denied that Lohan's ill health was linked to her delivery and appears to glorify women who take the plunge despite the risks involved in such pregnancies. "Becoming pregnant at advanced age has its own hazards," he acknowledges on his website. But "procreation is considered a basic civil right of man. We salute those women who endanger their lives when opting for IVF for becoming mother and getting rid of the stigma of infertility."
The website lists a number of cases of advanced-age pregnancies, including Lohan's case, under a separate header titled "our achievements." Leading the list is a 75-year-old man who got married twice, apparently in the quest of a baby, but to "no avail". Then in 2007, he brought one of the wives, a 60-year-old woman, to Bishnoi and was "blessed with a son and a daughter" in the same year. The reason for the woman's infertility is unknown, the website says, but her case highlights that "if a lady has uterus," nothing -- not even age -- can stop her from becoming a mother.
India's draft fertility law will mandate that a surrogate mother should not be over 35 and cannot produce more than five children, including her own. But it defines no upper age limit for other women looking to get pregnant through fertility treatments. In the United States, as in India, there are no restrictions on advanced-age pregnancies. Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority officially lifted age restrictions on pregnancies in 2005. France is one of the world's few countries that has sought to outlaw artificial insemination of post-menopausal women, arguing that the practice is "immoral" and "dangerous to the health of mother and child."
In India, where fertility treatment is significantly cheaper, regulation weaker, and childlessness is considered a curse, the recent high profile cases have highlighted how women -- even across small towns and villages where health facilities are scarce -- are taking extraordinary risks to conceive babies.
"Medically it is now possible to impregnate a 60-year-old. But medically, it is also possible to impregnate a pre-pubescent girl. Does that mean we should allow it?" says Imrana Qadeer, a retired professor from the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University. "The misguided emphasis on genetics -- ‘It has to be my baby, my blood' -- has overshadowed safer and more progressive options such as adoption."
But Dr. Pushpa Bhargava, one of the chief architects of the Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill, says deciding whether an upper age limit should be fixed is a "non-question."
"Procreation is a basic right, and we cannot deny it to anyone," he says, adding that the draft law includes a provision to "discourage" medically unfit women from seeking fertility treatment by requiring clinics to provide professional counseling about its health implications, the low rate of success, the costs involved, and also advice on the possibility of adoption. Bhargava says a fertility counselor's role would be analogous to that of a marriage counselor. "The counselor will offer advice, but in the end, to do or not to do is entirely your decision."
But given the intense social pressure that surrounds childbirth in many parts of India, prospective mothers often don't see it as a choice. Infertility is rarely countenanced as just another random happenstance of birth. A victim of nature's caprice you may well be, but childlessness in many corners around India epitomizes a grave sexual defect, eliciting guilt and shame. "‘No baby? Is something wrong? Is it you or your husband?'" Kisabai Biranje describes it. "That's the general thinking. A married couple must reproduce to be venerable in society."