Today In History: The First Test Tube Baby Born
Today in 1978, a girl named Louise Joy Brown was born. Louise was not like other babies, however. She was the first human child to be born who was the product of in vitro fertilization (IVF). Louise was colloquially known as the first “test tube baby.”
Brown was born at Oldham and District General Hospital in Manchester, England. She was delivered via caesarean section, just before midnight, and weight 5 pounds 12 ounces.
Her mother, Lesley Brown, was unable to conceive due to blocked fallopian tubes. She sought out alternative means of having a child, and in November of 1977, decided to receive an IVF procedure, which was then in its germinal stages.
Doctors removed one of her eggs and combined it with her husband Peter’s sperm in a dish. The egg was fertilized, an embryo formed, and the embryo was placed in her uterus. The procedure was conducted by a gynecologist named Patrick Steptoe and a scientist named Robert Edwards. They had been collaborating together on IVF for a decade.
Louise Brown’s birth made international headlines and sparked a great deal of public controversy.
Louise was followed a few years later by Natalie, IVF daughter number two. In May of 1999, Natalie Brown became the first “test tube baby” to give birth. Natalie’s daughter was conceived the standard way. This allayed concerns that babies that were born from IVF would be infertile.
In December of 2006, Louise Brown also had a child, a boy named Cameron John Mullinder. Cameron, like Natalie’s daughter, was also conceived naturally.
While it carried a stigma in the early stages of its refinement, IVF is now an accepted and mostly uncontroversial medical procedure. It has produced hundreds of thousands of healthy babies. While some cases use the mother and father’s eggs and sperm, like the Browns, other couples use donors.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Catholic Church has taken a hardline stance against IVF. The procedure was also banned in Costa Rica for many years, the only country in the Western hemisphere to do so, until a 2015 law legalized it.
As with anything involving human life, especially infant human life, the topic is freighted with ethical and cultural concerns that are not always easy to resolve. IVF has nowhere near the controversy footprint of abortion but is still contested in some corners of the ethics marketplace.
Nevertheless, it appears to be a very effective treatment that can greatly improve the quality of life of people who undertake it.