Monday, Mar. 31, 2003

Brave New Baby

July 25, 1978

Even before Louise Brown arrived, the London tabloids called her "Our Miracle Baby," and critics muttered words like Frankenstein. The world's first test-tube baby, she was born at 13 minutes to midnight — a 5-lb. 12-oz. bundle of squealing ethical questions and implications for the future of the species. After hundreds of tries, Lesley Brown's doctors found the secret to creating a baby outside the womb: having fertilized her egg in vitro, or in a Petri dish, they implanted the embryo after only 2 1/2 days rather than waiting for five and were rewarded with their first successful pregnancy. The breakthrough was not chronicled in some journal of reproductive medicine. The whole world awaited the birth because at the suggestion of one of their doctors, the parents had negotiated exclusive rights to the first baby pictures with the London Daily Mail for more than $500,000. Newspapers that bought reprint rights were guaranteed a 40% discount if the baby died within the first week.

It was the rare commentator who avoided any mention of Aldous Huxley. Some warned of baby farms and assembly lines of fetuses grown in test tubes, of rich women renting poor women's wombs to avoid the inconvenience of pregnancy. But fear was no match for dreams for thousands of infertile couples: "I would hope that within a very few years ... this will be a fairly commonplace affair," said Robert Edwards, one of the doctors. Louise is now 24, and 1 million babies later, that prophecy has come true.