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Test tube baby experiments

For many couples it's their worst nightmare. Years of trying and still, no baby. Adoption was once the only option. Nowadays there are fertility drugs, in vitro fertilization, and surrogate mothers. But with these modern-day solutions come new moral conundrums and questions: How far are we willing to go to fight infertility?

Are scientists creating life? In 1961, Dr. Daniele Petrucci of Bologna, Italy, conducts one of the first major in vitro fertilization experiments. He fertilizes a human egg in a laboratory dish, and it develops into a human embryo. The experiment proves successful: A heartbeat is detected. But Dr. Petrucci doesn't believe the embryo will continue developing normally; he destroys it after 29 days. In this CBC television clip, Dr. Petrucci discusses the ethical and theological implications of his research.

In vitro fertilization results in what is commonly known as "test tube babies." The in vitro fertilization process is as follows: A woman is given fertility drugs to increase her production of eggs. The mature eggs are removed from the woman's ovaries with a needle and placed in a dish where they're fertilized. The embryo develops for a few days before it's transferred to the woman's uterus. Doctors usually implant several embryos at one time, since the chance of a successful pregnancy is around 20 per cent.
• In this clip, Dr. Petrucci claimed he had the support of the Catholic Church. He wouldn't have its support for long. When the Vatican became fully aware of his research, they pressured him into discontinuing it. An editorial in L'Osservatore Romano, the weekly newspaper from the papacy, declared that in vitro fertilization violates God's natural law. It is a moral sin, deflating the importance of the unity of the flesh in the formation of life.

• Later the same year, Dr. Petrucci released a film which showed that he actually kept the embryo alive for 60 days - 31 days longer than initially reported.

• Dr. John Rock of Harvard University conducted the first in vitro fertilization experiment with human eggs and sperm. In 1944, he fertilized eggs from cadavers and observed cell division.

• In 1953, Dr. Landrum Shettles of Columbia University succeeded in getting fertilized human eggs to grow into a solid mass of cells.
• In 1973, physicians in Melbourne, Australia, were the first to successfully implant an embryo into a woman's uterus. However, the resulting pregnancy lasted only a week.
• The term "test tube baby" is a misnomer: fertilization takes place in a glass laboratory dish. "In vitro" is Latin for "in glass."

• The least successful part of the in vitro procedure is the embryo implantation. Even in normal conception, embryos survive only about 25 to 30 per cent of the time. But with in vitro fertilization, the survival rate is lower. In part, this is because removing eggs from a woman's body is physically disruptive.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: Feb. 9, 1961
Guest(s): Daniele Petrucci
Duration: 1:21

Last updated: February 8, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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