Sunday, October 22, 2006

Preview: American Experience – Test Tube Babies

Tomorrow, October 23rd, PBS stations will air "Test Tube Babies," an episode of the program American Experience, which describes the history of in vitro fertilization (IVF). The documentary includes historical and current footage and interviews with many participants in the development of this breakthrough technology, including researchers, fertility experts, bioethicists, and notable couples who received the treatment in the early stages of its development. It begins with experiments with IVF in rabbits that took place as early as the 1930s, and follows the technology through the birth of the first "test tube baby" in England in 1978 and beyond.

"Test Tube Babies" illustrates the controversy generated by IVF, including public fear of babies who would be born abnormal or as "monsters," the possibility of a slippery slope that would lead to eugenic trait selection, concerns from pro-life advocates about the destruction of embryos, the absence of federal funding for IVF research. This history is particularly relevant today, as similar debates arise on the issue of stem cell research and destruction of fertilized eggs.

The piece includes coverage of the story of John and Doris Del-Zio, who had been helped in creating an embryo by Dr. Landrum Shettles. At the time, the procedure was very controversial and led to the ultimate destruction of the couple's embryo and the firing of Dr. Shettles from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital due to the administration's fears of public scrutiny. The Del-Zios ultimately filed a lawsuit for emotional distress, considering the action the destruction of their baby, and mindful of the potential impact of this public event on the future of IVF.

"Test Tube Babies" also follows the successes in IVF that resulted almost concurrently with the well-publicized Del-Zio case, and the shift in public opinion that followed the births of normal, healthy babies from IVF technology. In fact, the individual who halted the Shettles experiment ultimately went on to open the first IVF clinic in New York. The evolving world of IVF is detailed, including commentary on the questions that faced early researchers with little published evidence to rely upon and the growing public acceptance of the practice. According to the piece, 400,000 IVF babies have been born in America since the nation’s first successful IVF birth in 1981, and there are currently 2 million "test tube babies" in the world.

Overall, "Test Tube Babies" provides an intriguing introduction to IVF and its history. The American Experience "Test Tube Babies" website provides additional related materials, including a timeline of IVF and reproductive technology, profiles of relevant people and events, families' stories, and commentary on ethical issues. Check your local listings for airtimes in your area; online viewing will be available after the documentary airs, as will a transcript.

Thanks to WGBH, producers of American Experience, for provision of an advance copy of this documentary.

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MeSH Tags: Fertilization In Vitro


Blogger Guy Barry said...

Thank you for the comments on test tube babies and ivp.I know we live in a wonder age but am afraid that it will be misused.Here in England Homosexual marriages can apply for and get test tube babies. As a christian it goes against all my beliefs.It is only the mismanagement that I'm against.

9:49 AM  

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