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The first “test tube baby”

In vitro fertilization (IFV) is 44 years old. In the United States, it is a threatened medical procedure.

Louise Brown is 44 years old today.

Although not a household name now, in 1978 both she and the circumstances of her birth were in global news, which dubbed her a “test tube baby.”

Her birth marked the first successful conception via in vitro fertilization (IVF). She was born on 25 July 1978 in Manchester, England.

Before giving birth to Louise, Lesley Brown had suffered years of infertility due to blocked fallopian tubes. In November 1977, she underwent the then-experimental IVF procedure. A mature egg was removed from one of her ovaries and combined in a laboratory dish with her husband’s sperm to form an embryo. The embryo then was implanted into her uterus a few days later. Her IVF doctors, British gynecologist Patrick Steptoe and scientist Robert Edwards, had begun their pioneering collaboration a decade earlier. Once the media learned of the pregnancy, the Browns faced intense public scrutiny. Louise’s birth made headlines around the world and raised various legal and ethical questions.

British medical researcher Robert Edwards and British gynecologist Patrick Steptoe had tackled the issue of infertility for 10 years. Edwards received the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work with IVF.

About one-in-three Americans either have or know someone who has used assisted reproductive technology (ART) to conceive a baby. IVF is the most common method.

Although men and women experience fertility issues at about the same rate (9% v 11%), ART is defined as only those procedures where an egg or embryo is handled. This definition does not include treatments in which only sperm are handled, such as artificial insemination.

In 2019, 2.1% of all infants born in the United States were conceived with help from ART. According to Pew Research, from July 2018:

Massachusetts – one of a handful of states that mandate insurance coverage for some fertility treatments – has the highest share of ART babies (4.5%). Births due to ART tend to be lowest in southern states. Meanwhile, in New Mexico, where there are very few fertility clinics and no mandated coverage, the share of births resulting from ART dips as low as 0.5%.

US ART births by state

According to the New York Times (April 2020), “typically” insurance plans cover only “a small fraction of the cost” for fertility treatments, such as that of medications. IVF can cost as much as $20,000 per attempt.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only two states “require insurance companies to offer coverage for infertility treatment.” Another 15 states “require insurance companies to cover infertility treatment” (Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and West Virginia) [emphasis in the original].

According to RESOLVE (The National Infertility Association), several state legislatures as well as Congress have introduced laws stipulating that human life (“personhood”) begins when sperm fertilizes an egg. Should such a bill become law, the legislation would make IVF illegal.

IVF was threatened by the US “personhood” movement even before the latest Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade.

map of abortion law
Guttmacher Institute, 25 July 2022


#scitech, #science, #society  (186/365)
Daily posts, 2022-2023

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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