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The IVF Panic: 'All Hell Will Break Loose, Politically and Morally, All Over the World'
Lesley Brown, the mother of the world's first baby conceived through in vitro fertilization, has died. She was 64. Given the number of babies that have now been conceived through IVF — more than 4 million of them at last count — it's easy to forget how controversial the procedure was during the time when, medically and culturally, it was new. We weren't quite sure what to make of this process that, on the one hand, offered hope to infertile women and, on the other, seemed to carry shades of Aldous Huxley. People feared that babies might be born with cognitive or developmental abnormalities. They weren't entirely sure how IVF was different from cloning, or from the "ethereal conception" that was artificial insemination. They balked at the notion of "assembly-line fetuses grown in test tubes." In press coverage of Brown's pregnancy, "test tube baby" — a phrase that reflects both dismissal and fear, and which we now use mostly ironically — was pretty much a default descriptor. (That's especially noteworthy because Louise Brown was conceived not in a test tube, but a petri dish: "In vitro" simply means "in glass.")