Assisted Reproductive Technologies
A look into the main reasons for infertility, how procedures evolving from recent scientific breakthroughs can combat this problem and an insight into the ethics surrounding this issue of ARTs.
Since the live birth of Louise Joy Brown (the first successful 'test-tube' baby) in 1978; we have heard massive praise, accompanied by huge controversy about the use of In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and other methods of technology-assisted reproduction. This astounding method of conceiving human life and carrying to term with a healthy and successful pregnancy was pioneered by leading scientists; Robert G. Edwards and Patrick Steptoe. Since the groundbreaking development in human science, over 4 million babies have been born through IVF procedures and up to 300,000 babies are ‘created’ every year, (ESHRE)
Natural fertilization occurs, when the female gamete (i.e. the ovum) descends from the ovary, travels through the fallopian tube and is then met by a male gamete (i.e. spermatozoa). These two gametes then fuse together (fertilization) to form a zygote. The zygote then divides rapidly and goes through numerous changes. It is now known as a blastocyst. By the fourth/fifth day after fertilization, the blastocyst containing an outer wall of trophoblasts, attaches itself to the uterine wall where the placenta is formed and the embryo begins to develop. This embryo will continue to grow in the womb for 8 weeks before it becomes a foetus. Forty weeks after fertilization, the foetus is ready to be born.
Many couples trying to conceive naturally will be met with disappointment for the first attempt or even several consecutive attempts. This does not necessarily mean that any one of the partners is at fault. Conception usually occurs in 80-85% of couples within 12 months of unprotected sexual intercourse. However, approximately 15% of couples will fail to conceive during this time and can then be tested for causes of infertility. There are many reasons why average couples fail to conceive naturally. It can be a case of female infertility, male infertility or a combination of both female and male infertility issues.
Studies have shown that the biggest causes of infertility in women are ovulatory disorders. Reasons for these ovulation problems can be due to hormonal problems (i.e. malfunction of the hypothalamus or malfunction of pituitary gland), follicle problems, scarred ovaries or premature menopause. (Stanford.edu) Tubal defects (i.e. fallopian tube defects) also account for a huge amount of infertility problems in females, ranging from mild adhesions to complete tubal blockages. If the fallopian tubes are blocked or damaged, the ovum cannot travel from the ovary to the uterus. The main causes for these defects may be; infection (such as pelvic inflammatory disease or Chlamydia), ectopic pregnancies, previous surgeries or congenital defects (such as septate uterus). (Stanford.edu)
Endometriosis is a common condition in females, by which tissue, similar to the lining of the uterus, grows elsewhere in the body. 1 in every 10 women has or will have endometriosis during their menstrual span (puberty to menopause). It affects approximately 176 million people worldwide. 30-40% of these women are infertile. (Endometriosis.org)
Often when we think of infertility problems, we tend to think that this is a female issue, however, “In about one third of couples who have difficulty conceiving, male causes will be identified.” Failure to produce healthy, viable sperm counts for the most part of male infertility problems. (Irishhealth.com) Hormone disorders, reproductive anatomy trauma and obstruction (damage to the testes where sperm is produced or blockage to the vas deferens), sexual dysfunction or illness, can temporarily or permanently affect sperm and hence prevent conception. (urologychannel.com) Varicocele, a collection of varicose veins in the scrotum...
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