More than two decades ago, women who had trouble conceiving were given a boost when Lesley Brown gave birth to the first TEST-TUBE BABY, in Oldham (pop. 227,000), England. The advance launched a debate over its ethical and biological implications.
Is in vitro fertilization to be applauded as a humanizing technique, allowing some infertile couples the joy of procreation? Or is it dehumanizing, a step that is to be condemned because it puts the moment of creation outside the body into a mechanical environment? To some thinkers, the Oldham experiment poses no problems. Says Rabbi Seymour Siegel, professor of ethics at Manhattan's Jewish Theological Seminary: "The Browns were trying to obey the commandment to have children. When nature does not permit conception, it is desirable to try to outwit nature. The Talmud teaches that God desires man's cooperation." For many others, in vitro fertilization is fraught with moral dangers. British Geneticist Robert J. Berry, a consultant to a board set up by the Church of England to consider issues like the one raised by the Brown baby, accepts the procedures for couples who want a child, but he is still troubled. "We're on a slippery slope," he warns. "Western society is built around the family; once you divorce sex from procreation, what happens to the family?"
--TIME, July 31, 1978