First in vitro fertilization baby—this is how it happened
On July 25, 1978, the first human was born following extracorporeal fertilization, an event that opened up a new medical science.
Volume 110, Issue 1, Pages 5–11
Simon Fishel, Ph.D., F.R.S.B.
On July 25, 1978, the first human was born following extracorporeal fertilization, an event that opened up a new medical science: expanding our knowledge of and developing novel treatments for infertility, radically changing the opportunities for families with inherited monogenic disorders, generating the new discipline of clinical embryology, and paving the way for studies into stem cell biology. In vitro fertilization (IVF), as it became known in its simplest form, went even further: it engaged the myriad of minds in human society. Not only were books written on the moral status of the human embryo, the ethics of IVF practice, and exercising governments on appropriate—which turned out to be disparate—regulation, it redefined family life! The prediction I made in 1985 that one day we may see five “parents” for one child became a reality quicker than we could have imagined at the time. The new medical science marched inexorably on in almost all countries of the world—a universal human plight at last had an opportunity for remedy: more than 10 million couples seeking a resolution to their infertility became parents, men who had no option to have their own genetic child became genetic fathers, and ever-increasing monogenic conditions were not being passed on to the next generation. The future may well bring to bear the opportunity for in vitro–developed viable gametes to generate successful pregnancies, and other “futuristic” opportunities for IVF science. But its story began over a century ago with seeking an understanding on how an egg matures and how to achieve successful fertilization—a fundamental scientific inquiry. It took one man to go beyond that scientific endeavor, to take head on a society unprepared and unwilling to accept human fertilization in vitro and unempathetic to the plight of the infertile; one man to see what prospects lay ahead for humanity should IVF become a reality, and for that man to battle every step of the way for nearly 2 decades to achieve that dream.