Test tube baby

First Test Tube Baby’s Mother Dies

What a sad day.  The woman who thought she would never give birth to a child, back in the 1970s, when there was no such thing as a “test tube baby” has died. The NY times has published a very nice overview (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/24/health/lesley-brown-mother-of-first-test-tube-baby-dies-at-64.html).

These days we take artificial insemination for granted.  But the truth is, it is still a tedious, imperfect and very expensive process.  The field has expanded enormously to include frozen embryos, surrogate pregnancy and even the possibility of “designer babies”.  All fascinating ideas and the subject of much discussion regarding morality, ethics and of course, legality.  The entire new field of law, often referred to as ART, for Artificial Reproductive Technology, is fascinating. The Family Law Section on the American Bar Association, which I currently Chair, has seen its membership increase and it’s attendance increase since this issue has grown.  Our seminars and our publications now spend significant time covering these topics, and the professionals in this field, are highly motivated.  They are on the cutting edge.  The entire Family Law Section, the entire American Bar Association, and in fact, the entire country (and yes, the legal world) benefit from the work these professionals are doing.  They are trying to chart courses in previously unnavigated waters.  What a challenge, what a responsibility and what a blessing to have folks motivated to try so hard to get it right, to do the right thing.  They did not invent these issues, but are trying ensure we can all work with them and understand the rights of parents, children and perhaps even rights of embryos. I do not intend to start a philosophical or religious or moral debate, but the absence of any law in this area until our generation makes the work that much more crucial.  I am looking forward to new developments every day, and again thank Lesley Brown and the others who advanced this field and allowed people who otherwise may never have experienced the joy of parenting their own biological child, to do so.

Recalling the first test tube baby

In 1978. That was the first time in the history of the world that a child was conceived outside of a mother’s body (an egg being fertilized in a dish), and then successfully carried through pregnancy to life by the mother. Until then, we were always certain that if a mother delivered a child, it was her biological child since her egg was fertizlized within her body, even if the sperm was donated. In 1978, everything changed. The child was Baby Louise and her story can be found via an easy internet search (you can read more about her story by clcking here). That was the start of successful in vitro fertilzation and the start of a brand new area of law.

I write about this since a guest lecturer for the Domestic Relations Law School course I teach discussed it last night. Ruth Claiborne is a leader in the legal field of assisted reproductive technology (ART) and her insights made for an exciting and interesting class.

From that day back in 1978, the field of ART has exploded. So have legal quandries surrounding it. Frozen embryos, inheritance by an embryo, custody battles between a surrogate mother and the biological mother, adoption of children not yet born and other legal quagmires have made this area of the law fascinating. There is a growing interest in ART among lawyers and non-lawyers. At our Spring and Fall ABA Family Law Section seminars, we are seeing more and more programs dealing with these topics. The leaders in this field, including attorney Steven Snyder and Professor Charles Kindregan and many others have generously given their time and talent to educating other lawyers about this new and emerging are of the law.

And these issues are everywhere. They have impacted almost every area of family law. For instance, some opponents of gay marriage used to argue that marriage was only for people who could procreate. Well that argument is now gone, or severely dimished since a same sex couple can now have a baby using donated sperm or a donated egg.

By no means am I an expert in this area. To the contrary, I still feel often like a little boy in science class learning new things. Last night during my law school class, I had that feeling again, and it was great.