In 1978, Louise Brown became the first child to be born using in vitro fertilization (IVF), the process of manually combining a sperm and an egg in a laboratory dish and then transferring the embryo into the woman’s uterus. Thirty-two years later, one of the scientists who pioneered this technology, Robert Edwards, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for developing this procedure.
Today, reproductive technologies such as IVF, along with surrogacy and egg or sperm donation, have become woven into the cultural fabric of how Americans treat infertility.
Billions of Dollars From. . . Babies?
Reproductive technology has also become a significant source of revenue. As of 2007, the infertility industry was a $6.5 billion business in the United States alone, according to Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News. The average cost for one IVF cycle ranges from $12,000 to $15,000, although many couples spend a good deal more as they attempt additional cycles in order to conceive. Surrogate mothers can earn more than $20,000 for carrying a child. And while payment for a typical sperm donation is less than $100, egg donors receive $5,000 to $10,000 (and sometimes even more) according to a 2010 report by The New York Times.
In 2012, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that use of reproductive technologies has doubled in the past decade, stating that more than 65,000 infants were born in 2012 alone as a result of these technologies. Jennifer Lahl, president of the California-based Center for Bioethics and Culture, says that 700,000 embryos exist in freezers across the United States, the result of fertility clinics creating more embryos than needed in case the initial transfer isn’t successful.1