In vitro fertilization: from controversy to hope

On July 25, 1978, an unprecedented event took place in the world of gynecology that gave hope to millions of fertility-challenged couples all over the world. It is forty years since the world’s first test tube baby was born: a healthy 3 kg baby girl named Louise Brown.

The competence and courage of the fertility doctors Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe made true something seemingly impossible. These two specialists fought against the prevailing ideological and social barriers at the time to demonstrate to the world the viability and safety of assisted reproduction techniques such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

The determination of doctors Edwards and Steptoe paid off when, after a failed first attempt in 1975, they succeeded in fertilizing an ovule of Louise Brown’s mother in the laboratory and transferring it to her uterus.

On July 25, 1978, against all odds, a healthy 3 kg baby was born and, as of this moment, couples desiring to be parents, became interested in the procedure carried out by these fathers of assisted fertilization in the small —and virtually unknown— English town of Oldham.

Once shown that in vitro fertilization was perfectly safe, taboos and stigmas-driven more by ignorance than by solid moral or ethical conflicts were left behind and it became an extended procedure.

Spain was one of the first countries to regulate this new medical specialty and, for this reason, it has become an important research center, home to prestigious clinics and skilled professionals. Today there are more than 157,000 cycles of assisted reproduction per year, of which 117,000 are IVF and 40,000 are artificial insemination (AI). These figures place Spain at the head of Europe in this treatment.

The Unidad de la Mujer of the Ruber International Hospital emerges, led by Prof. Dr. Juan José Vidal Peláez, and, more specifically, the Assisted Reproduction Service is a national chief center in the study and treatment of fertility-challenged couples.

The improvement of the techniques of assisted reproduction predicts a very hopeful future in which feats such as the one carried out by doctors Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe in 1978 will be frequent. The 21st century will also be as to be as controversial as the previous one on issues such as the anonymity of the reproductive donors, embryo screening according to parents’ wishes or gestation in artificial wombs.

We hope this article has been useful for you. You will find further information at the website of the Unidad de la Mujer. You can also contact us at the number (+34) 917 303 673

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