In 1677 the inventor of the microscope, the Dutch scholar Anton van Leeuwenhoek, saw human semen for the first time. In 1784 Lazzaro Spallanzani carried out a successful insemination on a female dog for the first time. Six years later, in 1790, the Scottish surgeon John Hunter used a syringe to inject semen into his wife’s vagina to overcome her infertility. This was the first successful insemination (artificial insemination) in human history. The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a healthy child.
On April 27, 1890, the British zoologist Walter Heape performed the first embryo transfer in history. He successfully implanted two fertilized eggs from an Angora rabbit into a Belgian hare rabbit. With this he achieved the first surrogate mother programme in history.
In the 1920s, artificial insemination with semen from the husband, or a selected donor, gradually became more accepted. The first IVF using human cells was performed in the United States by John Rock and Miriam Minkin in 1944. They achieved a two-cell cell through artificial insemination but no pregnancy.
The biologist Robert Edwards and the gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe are considered to be the first to perform a successful IVF on humans. After approx. 600 unsuccessful embryo transfers, they inserted an eight-cell embryo into the uterine cavity of their patient Lesley Brown on November 10, 1977. On July 25, 1978, Louise Joy Brown, the world’s first IVF baby, was born healthy in Oldham, England. Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards pioneered the history of in-vitro fertilisation.
Using the process they developed for creating embryos outside the womb, they helped the Browns to have a family after a decade of infertility. For Steptoe and Edwards, Louise was a sign of hope. The front pages about the ‘baby of the century’ finally gave millions of infertile couples solid evidence that their hope to have children could one day come true. Probably for this reason, Steptoe suggested Joy as the middle name. But like none before, Louise was also a projection screen for fears. For many it was a testimony to medical limits – man had risen to be creator. To this day, in-vitro fertilisation is considered immoral by the Catholic Church. The reason being is that it would deprive procreation of its dignity.