The nature of human infertility and the means to overcome it

Scientists have developed techniques that can help infertile couples to have children. A key principle for Christians is the sanctity of life . How this is applied varies with different denominations.

What is fertility?

Fertility is the natural ability of humans to reproduce (ie to have children).

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Estimates suggest that as many as ten per cent of couples will face fertility problems. They will either be unable to reproduce, or will need treatment to help them do so.

Fertility treatment is the name given to medical procedures that can help people to overcome some of these difficulties. Infertility can cause stress and unhappiness for people, so in recent years there has been much research into the means to try and overcome it.

What types of fertility treatments are there?

  • AIH (artificial insemination by husband) – a procedure whereby the sperm of the male is placed directly into the uterus (womb) of his female partner so that fertilisation of the ovum can be achieved.
  • AID (artificial insemination by donor) – a procedure as with AIH, however the sperm is provided by a donor who is not the woman's partner.
  • IVF (in vitro fertilisation) – a process whereby the ovum is fertilised outside the woman's body. 'In vitro' means 'in glass' - ie a petri dish or cell culture dish (not a test tube).

Important events in the history of fertility treatment and IVFImportant events in the history of fertility treatment and IVFBBC NEWS; LEGISLATION.GOV.UK; NOBELPRIZE.ORG, RETRIEVED 2013

What are the alternatives to fertility treatment?

  • Surrogacy - a woman carries and gives birth to a baby for another person or couple. The surrogate mother might be the baby's genetic mother if she provided the ovum. Alternatively, she could be completely unrelated to the baby, eg if an already fertilised ovum or embryo was placed in her womb.
  • Adoption – a single person or couple take on legal responsibility for bringing up a child who was born to someone else.