World’s first “test-tube baby” turns 40

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Louise Joy Brown, the world’s first baby to be conceived by in vitro fertilization (IVF), turns 40. The four decades since her birth have seen IVF used, misused, applauded and condemned.

Now a mother of two, Brown was born at Oldham and District General Hospital in Manchester, England, to parents Lesley and Peter Brown. Lesley Brown had suffered years of infertility, and underwent the then-experimental IVF procedure under the care of British gynecologist Patrick Steptoe and scientist Robert Edwards in Nov 1977. The healthy baby was delivered shortly before midnight by caesarean section and weighed five pounds, 12 ounces. Louise’s birth as the first “test tube baby” made headlines around the world, attracting vicious condemnation at the time as well as widespread applause and amazement. Forty years on, IVF is considered a mainstream medical treatment for infertility. Some five million people or more worldwide who have been born through IVF – a 2013 estimate cited by the BBC – have experienced its undoubted benefits. The delivery of twins and triplets is common with fertility treatments, a result of the transfer of more than one embryo during the procedure. For medical reasons, there is opposition to the delivery of “high order” multiple births, and women are advised against carrying all of the embryos to full term. Nadya Suleman, dubbed Octomom, became notorious on Jan 26, 2009, in the United States when she ignored the advice and gave birth to six boys and two girls via IVF and donor sperm. She set the Guinness World Record for most children delivered at birth to survive. Widely reviled at the time for misusing IVF, she had to go into hiding for a time. Her children survive, and so has her notoriety. Some religious leaders have condemned IVF. In Nov 2017 Pope Francis criticized the procedure as promoting children as “a right rather than a gift to welcome” and referred to it as “playing with life.” Some churches and conservatives oppose it because it now also allows same-sex couples and single mothers to have children too.

How has IVF developed since the first 'test-tube baby'? (BBC July 2015)

Louise Brown, the first IVF baby, reveals family was bombarded with hate mail (Telegraph July 2015)

World’s First Test Tube Baby Born

Louise Joy Brown website

Date written/update: 2017-09-02