The first child to be conceived outside their mother’s womb was Louise Brown, born in England in 1978. Now, approximately 34 years later, the UK is taking a look at the policies surrounding the IVF process.
IVF or In Virto Fertilization is a process most commonly used to assist couples who have problems conceiving. Unlike artificial insemination, where sperm is placed in the uterus but conception precedes normally, IVF involves combining eggs and sperm outside the body in a laboratory. Once an embryo or embryos form, they are then placed in the uterus. IVF is a complex and expensive procedure; only about 5% of couples with infertility seek it out. However, since its introduction in the U.S. in 1981, IVF and other similar techniques have resulted in more than 200,000 babies.
Across the pond, in the UK, IVF is also growing. In the past three years the number of single women having IVF treatment has more than tripled. In contrast, the number of women in a relationship with a man who embark on the treatment has risen by 18 per cent. This shockingly high disparity between the growth rates can be, in part, due to the laws of small numbers. More than 42,000 “conventional” couples had IVF treatment in 2010. The numbers of births to these women is expected to reach about 16,000 when data from all fertility clinics is compiled. Comparatively, last year 1,571 single women and 417 women in lesbian relationships underwent IVF.
Previously, there had been laws regulating the eligibility of a mother for the IVF process. Stating that it was not only important, but necessary for the child to have a father present in their life. In 2004 Suzi Leather, then chairwoman of the HFEA, described as “nonsense” the rule that doctors must take account of a child’s need for a father before approving treatment.
In 2008 Parliament voted that the rule should be scrapped. It was felt the legislation could be seen as discriminating against single women and lesbians. Speaking in the debate, Iain Duncan Smith, now Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “Taking this consideration away will be as though we are saying fathers are not important.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “We believe that the model family is to have a mother and a father in a marriage. These figures are very disappointing to us. What it means is that more children are being born into single parents’ homes by choice. We know that the best way for a child to be raised is by a mother and a father in a committed relationship, namely marriage. When we facilitate situations that do not match this ideal then society and future generations will suffer.”
A spokesman for the Fatherhood Institute said: “Families come in all shapes and sizes but, like mothers, fathers matter to children whether they are alive, dead, known, unknown, co-resident or separated, good, bad or indifferent. Research shows that children with positively involved fathers tend to do better in all sorts of ways, including educationally, emotionally and socially.”
In 2010 Baroness Deech, chairman of the Bar Standards Board, said she was disappointed by the decision to relegate the role of the father. “I regret the legislative dismissal of the contribution of half the population to the upbringing of the next generation.”
As the number of single mothers engaging in IVF grows it is likely to become more of a hot-button issue in the UK and possibly here in America.