One area that has sparked considerable debate since the late 1970s is reproductive technology, or medical developments that allow doctors to control the process of human conception and fetal development. Reproductive technology first came to the public’s attention in 1978 with the birth of Louise Brown, the world’s first “test-tube baby.” Louise’s mother was unable to conceive a baby because her fallopian tubes, through which eggs must descend to reach sperm and be fertil- ized, were blocked. Using a technique known as in vitro fertilization, her doctors removed an egg from her body, fertilized it with her husband’s sperm in a test tube, and then implanted it in her uterus to develop. Nine months later, Louise Brown was born.
Louise Brown’s birth raised questions about how far doctors should go in in- terfering in the normal human processes of reproduction. Subsequent cases raised even trickier questions. For example, courts have had to decide whether fetuses should be placed for adoption when the biological parents have died and whether custody of fetuses after divorce should go to the parent who wants the fetuses im- planted or the one who wants them destroyed. More recently, doctors and others have debated whether couples should be allowed to hire women to carry their fetuses to term for them, whether postmenopausal women should be allowed to have a baby using another woman’s egg, and whether doctors should be allowed to combine genes from a man and two women into one embryo to avoid transmitting genetic defects carried by one of the women.
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