By Maria Coluccio

Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) have provided millions of individuals with the opportunity to have biological children who otherwise would have never been able to do so. In 2013, around 68,000 babies were born using ART in nearly 500 clinics across the U.S. As prominent as these technologies are today, ART had some ethically troublesome beginnings. In an article about the first artificial insemination procedure, Elizabeth Yuko describes how the “earliest days of ART were a far cry from the strict ethical standards of today.”

The first artificial insemination to result in a live birth was performed by physician William Pancoast in 1844. Yuko details the shocking and alarming procedure performed on a 31-year old patient, who was unable to conceive. The woman, without her knowledge, was chloroformed and inseminated with a rubber syringe in front of a half dozen medical students. The source of the semen was not her husband, but one of the “most attractive” medical students in the group. The true identity of the father remained a secret to both parents until after a healthy baby boy was born. After the birth, Panacost told the woman’s husband the true story and both men agreed not to tell the mother of the child about the final procedure and the true birthfather. The hidden details of the story remained untold until one of the medical students that witnessed the event, Addison Davis Hard, published a letter in Medical World. In the letter, Hard writes “artificial impregnation offers valuable advantages,” primarily the ability to provide “carefully selected seed” instead of semen “with the worst possible promise of good and healthy offspring”.

Although this event initially took place almost 200 years ago, the ethical principles and questions within it are still as relevant as ever.

Read the full article here.