November 28, 2022

First IVF mother dies

Lesley Brown, the woman who gave birth to the first “test-tube baby” in 1978, died this week after a short illness at the age of 64 in Bristol, England. She lived to see her daughter Louise give birth to a naturally-conceived grandson, Cameron.

(L-R: Robert Edwards, Lesley Brown, Louise Brown and her son Cameron)

Lesley Brown, the woman who gave birth to the first “test-tube baby” in 1978, died this week after a short illness at the age of 64 in Bristol, England. She lived to see her daughter Louise give birth to a naturally-conceived grandson, Cameron. 

IVF has come a long way since Mrs Brown’s daughter was conceived at Bourn Hall. About 4 million babies have been born through IVF. In many countries, 2 to 3 percent of births began in an IVF clinic. The physiologist who treated Mrs Brown, Robert Edwards, has been honoured with a Nobel Prize in Medicine for “a technological advance that has revolutionized the treatment of human infertility”. 

Over the past 30 or so years, a fix for the heartache of infertility has become a highly competitive multinational business constantly looking for new markets. Bourn Hall, for instance, offers IVF surrogacy treatment to heterosexual and same-sex couples. It also has clinics in India and Dubai. 

Mrs Brown probably didn’t foresee the commercial possibilities in her own bundle of joy. Earlier this week the Sher Fertility Institute in Las Vegas, a large IVF network, turned IVF into a back-of-the-cereal-box competition. It gave away a free IVF cycle to three couples out of 45 who had submitted personal, emotionally wrenching videos about their desperation to have a child. Other clinics have had raffles and lotteries. Mrs Brown was the mother, not just of a child, but of an industry.

Michael Cook
Creative commons
IVF
Robert Edwards