The world sits on the cusp of being able to create designer babies that would allow parents to predetermine their child’s sex, eye color, height, health conditions, and a plethora of other genetic variabilities. With that being said, it is hard to imagine that only 38 years ago, the world was introduced to its first test tube baby.
On July 25, 1978, at Oldham and District General Hospital in Manchester, England, Louise Joy Brown, weighing five pounds and 12 ounces, entered the world. Louise was living proof that conception no longer needed to be contained inside of a female’s body.
July 25 is Test Tube Baby Day https://t.co/DmPGkaUcoN
— WWWeird Holidays (@WWWeirdHolidays) July 25, 2016
Just like most married couples in the 70s, Lesley and Peter Brown wanted to have a child. For many years, the Browns tried to conceive the natural way, but Lesley was not able to become pregnant. It was discovered that Lesley had a medical issue which had rendered her infertile. Her fallopian tubes were blocked. At this point in history, when a couple was not able to have a child through sexual intercourse, adoption was their only other option. For the Browns, a new, experimental procedure gave them a glimmer of hope. The procedure was called in vitro fertilization.
Explaining to the Browns how in vitro fertilization was going to work must have sounded like science fiction. The doctor explained that an egg that had reached maturity was going to be harvested from one of Lesley’s ovaries. Peter was going to need to provide a sperm sample. Lesley’s egg and Peter’s sperm were going to put into a Petri dish where they would be joined together in order to form a zygote. It is this part of the procedure that gave rise to the nickname of test tube baby due to the baby being conceived in a science laboratory.
As the newly formed zygote was in the Petri dish, it was nourished with various proteins and growth factors in order to make sure it stayed healthy for implantation into Lesley’s uterus. A few days after conception occurred in the lab, the zygote was placed inside Lesley’s uterus. Once the zygote successfully attached itself to Lesley’s endometrium, the zygote became an embryo.
When it was confirmed that Lesley had a successful implantation and was pregnant, the Browns’ lives became one of public condemnation. The main reason that the family was looked at in a negative light was due to the unnatural way that this pregnancy had occurred. Leading the charge in this aspect were those in the religious community. Many felt that if it was not possible for Lesley to become pregnant then she should not have subverted the will of God and turned to science to make it happen. For doctors, it was questionable as to whether or not they should have the power and ability to play God in the lab.
— Jacqueline Estefani (@jarlae) July 25, 2016
The concept and procedure for in vitro fertilization occurred in the late 60s. Lesley’s fertilization team of Doctor Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards were the pioneers of the groundbreaking fertility method. It was not until 2010 that Steptoe and Edwards were awarded the Nobel Prize for their contribution to medicine.
From 1978 to 2016, just shy of two generations of time have passed and in vitro fertilization is quite a common practice in the fertility field. The success rate for in vitro fertilization has drastically increased as well in the last couple of decades. As stated earlier, the world is preparing for the next groundbreaking step in reproductive medicine.
Similar to in vitro fertilization, moral and ethical questions will be asked as to if humans should be able to have this much power and control in programming the next few generations of the human race. The science fiction movie, Gattaca, may quickly become science fact.
Do you remember when the first test tube baby was born? What do you think about the future of reproductive medicine?
[Image via Press Association/AP Images]