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The world's first test tube baby

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?

On July 25th, 1978, Drs. Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe deliver the world's first test tube baby. Louise Brown is the daughter of Lesley and John, a couple from Bristol, England, who have been trying to conceive for nine years. Their miraculous success gives hope to millions of infertile couples but arouses deep concern in others. Should man play God? Will scientists soon be able to manufacture a master race? On CBC's Radio Noon phone-in program, callers give their opinions.

Rabbi Gunther Plaut, the in-studio guest, is skeptical about this scientific advancement. Having escaped Hitler's Germany, he's all too aware of the possibility of genetic engineering. Some of the show's callers are more optimistic, seeing the possibility of offering motherhood to all. Fifteen per cent of couples suffer infertility. In Lesley Brown's case, blocked fallopian tubes are the problem; her eggs cannot travel from her ovaries to her uterus. Her only hope was an unproven procedure - in vitro fertilization.
• Some critics warned that Louise Brown and other in vitro babies might develop unforeseen health problems because they were created from eggs and sperms that couldn't reproduce naturally. However, Louise Brown grew up to be a perfectly healthy, perfectly normal little girl.

• Drs. Steptoe and Edwards placed the fertilized egg in Lesley Brown's uterus after two and a half days in the lab dish. In their previous unsuccessful attempts, they had waited four to five days.

• Approximately 40 per cent of all infertile women suffer from blocked fallopian tubes.

• Other causes of female infertility are a failure to ovulate (35 per cent of cases), cervical problems which keep sperm from entering the uterus (ten per cent of cases), and an abnormal uterus (one per cent). In about 15 per cent of cases, the cause of the infertility is unknown.

• A Florida couple, the Del Zios, had dreamed of becoming the parents of the world's first test tube baby in 1973. But their embryo was deliberately destroyed before it could be implanted. They sued the chief of obstetrics at a New York hospital. He claimed he stopped the experiment because it was unsanctioned by the hospital. In the end, Doris Del Zio was awarded $50,000.

• "I can't see why some people believe a baby conceived in this fashion isn't as sacred as a baby conceived in the normal fashion. There's even more care, more desire, more intent involved here - because so much time, energy, skill and emotion had to be invested in its conception," said Doris Del Zio, an infertile woman, about test tube babies. Quoted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

• Each year in Canada, thousands of babies are born using reproductive technologies.
Medium: Radio
Program: The Best of Radio Noon
Broadcast Date: Aug. 13, 1978
Guest(s): Rabbi Gunther Plaut
Host: Bruce Rogers
Duration: 10:08

Last updated: May 30, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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