As world's first test tube baby turns 30 experts warn about dangers of 'reproductive tourism'

As the world's very first test tube baby celebrates her thirtieth birthday experts are warning that the growth of 'reproductive tourism' is becoming an increasing problem which is putting women and babies at risk.

In 1978 Louise Brown became the first child to be born who was conceived by assisted reproductive technology or in vitro fertilization (IVF), with the help of University of Cambridge fertilization experts Dr. Robert Edwards and Dr. Patrick Steptoe.

Her birth on July 25th caused controversy around the world and comments at the time accused the scientists involved of 'playing God'.

Since then more than 3.5 million children around the world have been conceived in the same manner.

IVF treatment involves surgically removing eggs from a woman's ovaries and combining them with sperm in the laboratory, doctors then select the best embryos - usually one or two - and implant them in the woman's uterus.

IVF enables millions of women who are unable to conceive naturally to have children but the technology is not without risks. Most treatments involve women aged between 30 and 39.

Multiple births increase the odds of low birth-weight and complications during delivery and more than 30 percent of successful IVF pregnancies result in mothers giving birth to twins, triplets or greater numbers of babies.

In the last three or four years, cheap flights, open borders and medical advances have made it much easier for infertile couples to seek in vitro fertilisation treatments in countries where such procedures cost far less.

But experts say there are no international set of standards which might help people choose a safe place to go, with the result that many couples are taking risks at clinics that may not have adequate standards.

Researchers say it is often not known where the eggs come from, or a woman comes back pregnant with multiple embryos which is the single biggest risk for mother and child during IVF.

Experts say governments, patient organisations and doctors need to raise awareness of the possible dangers of cross-border care and the possible outcomes.

While Europe is in the forefront in the number of procedures carried out, followed by the U.S., other countries are hot on their heels.

However best practices are not uniform across Europe and safety measures introduced in some countries are restricted or illegal in others and an important difference occurs in the rules on the maximum number of embryos that can be transferred to a woman's womb.

While Britain and Scandinavia allow only one or two to be implanted other countries do not have this restriction, increasing the risk of twins or triplets.

Of special interest, Louise Brown is now the mother of an 18-month-old boy who was conceived naturally!


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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