Prior to 1978, for many couples with infertility, the chance of cure was as bad as the chance of cure for many terminal illnesses such as some types of cancer, meaning there was almost nothing that could be done. These couples either successfully adopted or they proceeded to have a childless life.
The discovery and development of In-Vitro-Fertilization (IVF) changed that tremendously. There are three types of problems that contribute to infertility – problems with the wife’s eggs, problems with the husband’s sperm and problems with the “plumbing” (the anatomic pathway which allows the sperm and egg to come together and nourish a thriving baby). In medical terms, this refers to the woman’s fallopian tubes, uterus and cervix.
IVF involves taking the sperm and egg and bringing them together in a laboratory for a few days before being put back into the mother’s body as an intact embryo. The rest of the pregnancy journey takes place just as it always has in nature, inside the mother’s womb. Initially, IVF was thought of as just a way to solve the plumbing problems. Instead of relying on a sperm and an egg to come together inside the body under natural conditions, women with scarred or missing tubes could still have a baby by having the sperm and egg introduced to each other outside the body under ideal laboratory conditions. Over time, IVF has evolved to help couples with severe sperm problems and even couples with significant egg issues. Couples with extremely severe egg issues can not be helped through IVF, unless they are willing to enlist the help of an egg donor. While IVF is still not 100% in its usefulness to infertile couples, it has come a long way.
Rather than be some space-age oddity, IVF has become an everyday household word. As of 2006, over THREE MILLION IVF BABIES have been born. In fact, over 1% of the healthy babies born in the US today arrive as a result of IVF. In certain other countries, that ratio is higher than 3%. As with any new scientific advancement, there are questions as to long term consequences. The issue of future health in IVF babies has successfully breached new hurdles as each generation of IVF babies successfully finishes infancy, childhood and now, early adulthood without any major surprises. As time has passed, we have reached the moment when the first generation of IVF babies are starting to have their own normal babies and the majority of them appear to be doing so naturally, without the need for any infertility treatment.
Today, there are still some people who promote the extreme view that all scientifically advanced ways of assisting reproduction, including In-Vitro-Fertilization, should be banned. While it is true that as mankind discovers more advances that push the limits of nature, such as cloning and genetic selection, we need to constantly evaluate the differences between what we CAN do vs. what we SHOULD do. However, to argue for elimination of IVF would unfairly deprive many infertile couples of the option of having a baby. IVF is now a proven effective way to help most couples exercise their privilege (or their RIGHT) to be happy parents.