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University of Bristol
Wellcome Trust
Recommended by:
Society of Biology
PEEP for Physics & Ethics at GCSE

Assisted reproduction: IVF

In vitro is Latin for “in glass”. Actually the in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) of an egg removed from a woman’s ovary and several thousand specially prepared sperm from a man takes place in special fluid in a petrie dish. The egg and sperm are incubated for two or three days, and when embryos of 4-8 cells develop, up to three, but more usually one or two are transferred via a very fine tube to the woman’s uterus.

You can find out more details of the procedure at the websites given on the right.

Here are some facts about IVF:

  • Up to one in six people are unable to conceive when they want to.
  • Involuntary childlessness causes real distress to those affected.
  • The first baby successfully born as a result of this procedure was Louise Brown in 1978.
  • Since then about 68,000 babies have been born as a result of IVF.
  • In the UK the NHS provides about 25% of IVF treatments.
  • A single cycle of IVF can cost £2000-4000, with an addition £1000 for drugs.
  • The success rate per treatment cycle averages about 22%.
  • Single babies born after IVF are more likely to be premature or of low birth weight but twins born after IVF are at no greater risk than twins born conventionally.

Task: discuss the following ethical dilemmas:

Two couples are having IVF treatment at a clinic. Mrs A does not become pregnant, but Couple B are successful and go on to have healthy twins. Then it is realised that there was a mix-up in the embryology lab and the twins are genetically those of Mr and Mrs A.

Mrs D is a divorcee in her late 50s and wants to have hormone treatment to enable her to become pregnant. She will need both an egg and a sperm donor.





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 The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is the Government body that regulates all human embryo research being conducted in the UK and all UK clinics providing IVF.

 The Oxford Fertility Unit provides information on the different types of fertility treatment.

  Alpha an international forum for communication and interchange of ideas and information between all scientists, technologists, and technicians working in reproductive science.

I'm a Scientist: Get me out of here's Debate Kit on IVF aims to develop students’ discussion skills. It contains 8 debate cards outlining the opinions of fictional characters with an interest in the topic, and teachers notes.