• Happy Birthday, Louise Brown: IVF Baby Number One

      In 1977, Drs. Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards performed the first successful human IVF treatment. And on July 25, 1978 Louise Brown was born.

      In the 32 years since Louise's birth, hundreds of thousands of women have followed in her parents' footsteps: undergoing IVF treatments in the hopes of having babies.

      Since the Browns' successful treatment three decades ago, the technologies and treatment methods have improved by leaps and bounds. Better understanding of the factors that cause infertility, more accurate testing and diagnostic options, more pharmacological choices, more individualized treatment plans and better technology by which to perform nearly all aspects of treatment have led to success rates per cycle of 35% and higher. And more refined treatment options have led to better outcomes for both mothers and their IVF babies.

      Ms. Brown's conception was met with ethical concerns from doctors and laypeople alike. Fears that women might become "baby fatories," that doctors were tampering with human lives and souls and concerns about the health and well-being of IVF offspring down the road were the hot topics of debate thirty years ago.

      These ideas are still being looked at today, along with a new generation of ethical concerns. The guidelines for treatment as set forth by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine have come into question, as have the lack of required formal oversight and the U.S. government's largely hands-off approach to Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). The recent spate of high-profile problems have prompted more concerns about the risks to the health and well-being of the mothers and their offspring versus the patients' rights to choose and have a say in their own medical care. Several mix-ups of sperm, eggs and embryos (resulting in miscarriage, pregnancy termination and women carrying other families' babies) have caused the industry to come under close scrutiny. The ability to selectively screen embryos for genetic traits (from gender to inherited diseases) worries some that "designer babies" are on the rise.

      Yet through all of the ethical debates and the discovery of some serious problems among a handful of doctors and clinics, the evolution of IVF has given joy to hundreds of thousands of families all over the world. The treatments are increasingly available to families who previously had limited choices for family-building. Successful IVF after years of infertility has been proven to increase self-esteem and decrease depression in women. And women have gained a previously unavailable flexibility to control the course of their lives and their reproductive health.

      ART will surely continue to grow and evolve with better technology, success rates and public acceptance of IVF and other treatments as legitimate means of solving the problem of infertility. It has been woven into the fabric of modern society; while it will continue to draw scrutiny and experience growing pains, it will also continue to give families the sense of joy and wonder, the gift of familial love, and the completeness that so many people struggling with infertility crave.

      Happy Birthday, Louise Brown! We are all so happy you are another year older.
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