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Dar Guzeppa Debono - The Story of ART

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The Story of ART

IVF involves the addition of a man's sperm to his female partners eggs’ in the laboratory to produce embryos which are then put back into the female partner's uterus (womb) after 3 to 5 days of being in the incubator. ICSI is the process whereby a single sperm is injected directly into an egg if the male has poor sperm. There is an increased rate of malformations in babies with ICSI of % as opposed to % in the general population. When the ovaries are encouraged by artificial hormones to superovulate they can produce many ripe eggs in one cycle. These eggs are fertilised and a small number of healthy embryos are then transferred back into the uterus of the mother. In 5% of cases, women may suffer a life-threatening complication from fertility drugs, called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. Women can become very ill especially if they do conceive during that cycle. The condition can be life threatening and has a mortality rate.

Louise Brown was the first child born after IVF at 11:47 p.m. on July 25, 1978 at Oldham General Hospital, UK. Following the invention of ‘the oral contraceptive pill’ in the mid-1960s attitudes towards sexuality and reproduction started to change dramatically . In the 1970's the sperm bank was born. Heterosexual couples, lesbian couples and, single women could shop for sperm at the local bank. They could take their list of desired traits and pick an appropriate donor. Slowly, human genetic material became a commodity. Ethical issues continued to be debated. At what point should pre-embryos/embryos be considered to have human rights? Is "creating", discarding, freezing, or manipulating them right?" Does a true family come from the union of two people from different sexes?" Should single women be allowed access to IVF in order to have children? Is there a need for a father? Should homosexual male or female couples be allowed access to IVF treatment in order to have children? Just a few years ago treatment for single women and lesbian couples was very difficult to find, as was sex selection, now it is easily possible to find clinics who will accomodate these wishes.

In April 2005, when sperm anonymity was removed in UK, children born following sperm donation were given similar rights to those conceived after this date. All donors of sperm must retain their identity and all children born after sperm donation must be able to track who thei r ‘biological father’ is. This law enforcement came after the enormous psychological trauma these young people suffered as they were unable to trace their origin.

Then pregenetic diagnosis or PGD started to be used to test embryos prior to transfer into the uterus. Part of the embryo is removed and tested used for this procedure . This selection of "healthy" embryos is sometimes referred to in news articles as "Designer Embryos". Or ‘Embryos Made to Order’ So should PGD be used at all? Should PGD be only available to those who can afford it? Is sex selection wrong? Is selecting embryos with certain traits or characteristics wrong? Should other types of research be given priority to ‘cure genetic diseases’?

Zoe Leyland born in Australia in 1984, was the first frozen embryo to become a live their baby. What about frozen embryos? Rather than destroying them, their donation to infertile couples and their use for therapeutic or experimental purposes is “praiseworthy in intention", but fraught with problems. “I have 300 unclaimed embryos in my freezer.