By: Futurism, Kristin Houser
Ever since the first “test-tube baby” was born in 1978, hopeful parents-to-be have turned to in vitro fertilization (IVF) to help them get past difficulties conceiving. Almost four decades later and an estimated 5 million babies have been born through assisted reproduction technology.
While the thought of all those happy families is heartwarming, IVF is a controversial practice complicated by legal, moral, and technological limitations. Now, one of those technological limitations is being challenged, and it’s forcing both legislators and society at large to rethink their own boundaries.
THE BIRDS AND THE BEES AND THE LAB
At the center of this debate are embryos. During the process of IVF, sperm and eggs are brought together in a laboratory dish so that the sperm can fertilize the egg to create an embryo. Those embryos are then incubated in that dish for 48 to 120 hours, at which point the doctor chooses the fertilized eggs most likely to result in a pregnancy. Those eggs are implanted in the patient’s uterus and, if all goes well, nine months or so later a baby is born.
To improve the chances of getting a viable embryo, doctors typically start the process by fertilizing more eggs than they plan to implant. After IVF, those extra eggs can be frozen for future use by the same patient or donated to another patient who may not have viable embryos of their own. The embryos can also be donated for research purposes. That’s where the controversy heats up.