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The first test-tube girl celebrates 25 years (update)

Louise Brown, the first in the world to be born from artificial insemination, celebrated in Britain with her doctors and a thousand other test-tube children. The event was also attended by the inventor of the method, who was slandered in the past as someone who "tries to take the role of God" - but a million people today owe him their lives * The women do not want to hear about the risks

Tamara Traubman

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In the celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the birth of the first "test tube baby", the problems associated with in vitro fertilization were not often discussed: the pain and risk compared to the low success rates, the phenomenon of egg trafficking, and the consequences of implanting 2 or 3 embryos in the patient's uterus

An audience of hundreds of people - doctors, parents and children - gathered on July 25 on the lawn in front of a fertility clinic in Cambridge, England. On this date, 25 years ago, Louise Brown, the first "test tube baby", and the fertilization operation Prof. Edwards. 2% of the test tube births in the world take place in Israel
Two doctors, Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards, performed an experimental procedure there that led to the birth of the first "test tube baby", Louise Brown. In honor of the event, a mass birthday party was held, speeches were made and Brown was asked to cut a huge birthday cake. But she looked as if she didn't want to be there and answered questions from reporters briefly and shyly. The feeling was that the celebration was not meant for her but for the doctors, who for the first time succeeded in inducing conception outside the woman's body and thus canceled, through advanced technology, the sentence of nature.

Brown's birth was seen in the 70s as evidence of science out of control, the arrogance of a man trying to "play God" and the recklessness of scientists rushing to perform procedures without considering their safety and consequences. Doctors and scientists promised then that there was nothing to worry about, and according to the accepted opinion they kept their promise. Today, researchers bring in vitro fertilization as a reinforcement for the claim that there is nothing to fear from cloning. "Look what terror the birth of the first test-tube baby caused," they say, "and we all know that the prophecies of wrath did not come true."

What happened in the 25 years since Louise Brown was born? Do women really have no reason to worry about IVF treatments? About two and a half years ago, Ran Reznik revealed in "Haaretz" suspicions, according to which senior gynecologists extracted an abnormal amount of eggs from women in Israel, while risking their lives, in order to sell the eggs to other women. In recent years, gynecologists have been acting as middlemen in the trade in the eggs of women from poor countries such as Romania and Cyprus. The public in Israel does not know under what conditions the eggs are taken, to what extent the women are aware of the consequences of the procedure and what payment they receive for their eggs. The Minister of Health, Danny Nava, is currently formulating an initiative that will make it possible to buy and trade the eggs of women from Israel as well.

Edwards, the doctor who was involved in Louise Brown's birth, claimed that IVF is a "landmark" and one of the "amazing successes" of the last century. The articles published with the birth of Louise Brown, and now again on the occasion of the semi-anniversary of her birth, praised the "technological achievement" and described Louise Brown as a "rosy and smiling" baby. But the doctor and the media usually ignore the problematic aspects of the revolutionary treatment.

While the couple Leslie and John Brown were treated at Steptoe and Edwards' clinic only a handful of mice, rats and rabbits were born through in vitro fertilization. Despite this, the two doctors decided it was time to start experiments on women as well. 68 women participated in the experiment, but only Leslie Brown, Louise's mother, and another woman gave birth to live babies. Today, the global success rate in IVF treatments is about 10% per treatment cycle.

Jenna Correa, who has researched the history of IVF, writes in her book "The," Mother Machine that Leslie Brown and other women who participated in Steptoe and Edwards' experiments were unaware of the experimental nature of the procedure. Brown did not know that the method had never been successful in humans and that success was rare in animals.

Steptoe surgically removed eggs from Leslie Brown's body. He "wanted her to stay in the hospital one more day for her recovery," Correa writes, "but she and her husband could not afford the expenses." On the train that drove them home, Leslie began to bleed. The train shook her and blood soaked into her clothes. John carried her in his arms until they reached their house. At home he told her: "This is it. No more. You are not going back to this hospital anymore."

According to Naama Wichner, a lawyer from the International Center for Health, Law and Ethics at the University of Haifa, even today many women are not aware of the risks and side effects associated with in vitro fertilization. "They don't really want to hear, and the doctors don't really try to tell them," she says. The treatment involves pain and great discomfort, the risks include over-stimulation of the ovaries, bleeding, inflammation, cysts, complications related to the anesthesia used during egg retrieval, and there may also be an increased risk of blood clots, stroke, myocardial infarction and ovarian cancer. According to some studies, the risk of ovarian cancer increases fivefold due to the fertility treatments.

According to Wichner, when Louise Brown was born "they thought that in vitro fertilization would be a very unique treatment for specific problems. But nowadays fertilizations are very available and are done almost automatically. Very quickly we switch to this option, even though there are many cases where it was possible to get pregnant without it."

Israel, defined by sociologists as a country that encourages childbirth where genetic parenting is extremely important, is one of the countries that makes the most extensive use of in vitro fertilization. So far, more than 24,300 babies have been born in Israel through in vitro fertilization. This number is more than 2% of all IVF babies in the world, a rate that is five times greater than the relative share of Israel's population in the population of developed countries.

According to Prof. Mayra Weiss, an expert in the anthropology of medicine from the Hebrew University, there has never been a serious discussion in Israel on the question of the prices charged by fertility treatments. According to data from the Ministry of Health, the cost of in vitro fertilization treatments reaches more than 200 million shekels per year, not including the cost of treating the many premature babies born as a result of the preference, mainly in Israel and the US, to implant two or three embryos in the mother's womb. The fact that this money was taken from the health basket, from the same budget intended to finance cancer drugs and life-saving drugs, shows the critical importance the state places on childbirth.

Hila Al-Avler, who is writing a doctoral thesis on fertility treatments at Bar-Ilan University, claims that the economic price is accompanied by a heavy emotional price. According to her, the treatments dictate a strict and intensive lifestyle that harms the couple's well-being. In addition, many dilemmas arise during the pregnancy itself, which do not arise in a normal pregnancy. For example, when two or three well-developed embryos are implanted in the uterus, the dilemma may arise as to whether to kill one of them, to reduce the risk of birth problems and reduce the burden of raising twins or triplets.

The first test-tube girl celebrates 25 years (update)


Louise Brown, the world's first test-tube baby, is celebrating her 25th birthday. Today (Saturday), a thousand test-tube babies gathered in Bourne, eastern Britain, to mark the anniversary of the invention of the revolutionary fertility treatment - which changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of couples around the world, who managed to realize the Your longing for parenthood.

1,000 balloons were blown into the sky today near the clinic where Brown was born, while the children and their parents sing "Happy Birthday" and celebrate.

Brown, who works as a postman, lives in Bristol in the south-west of England, and is about to get married. At the party she said that she enjoyed meeting old friends again - more test-tube children and the doctors she had known all her life. However, Brown said that apart from the birthday celebrations that are held in her honor every year, she does not feel different from other young people her age.

"Taking God's Role"

Since Louise Brown, who was born on July 25, 1978, one million babies have been born as a result of IVF around the world.

The inventor of the method, Prof. Robert Edwards, said that this is a celebration of success. "We had hypotheses, we thought it would work, and it did," Edwards said at a press conference attended by Brown and Alastair MacDonald, the first male test-tube baby. "It's fantastic to be between these two people," said Edwards, now 77.

The procedure in which in vitro fertilization takes place, during which an egg taken from the mother and a sperm taken from the father are fertilized in a test tube, was considered revolutionary in the 70s. Edwards and his partner Patrick Steptoe, who died in 1988, came under heavy criticism while working on the procedure, with many accusing them of trying to take the role of God.

Today, the method, as well as other methods developed since then, is considered effective for 75 percent of couples who encounter fertility problems. According to statistical studies, one out of every six couples is expected to encounter fertility difficulties.

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