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Ex ovo omnia? A letter to members of The Ovum Club on the 50th anniversary of the beginning of IVF


This writing presents personal reflections on issues raised by the recent publication of texts concerning the developing story of infertility treatment since the delivery of Louise Brown in 1978. It is written by a woman whose own natural conception coincided with the commencement of Steptoe and Edwards’s collaboration, and who herself received, as an adult, a treatment to which their work gave rise. It addresses itself to the as yet mostly anonymous and silent female subjects—the self-styled ‘Ovum Club’—without whose involvement in the original research programme in Oldham in 1969–1978 Louise would never have been born, to be followed by millions of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) babies worldwide. It ponders a few of the characteristics of the celebratory narratives of the development of IVF as have so far been told and draws attention to some of the paradoxes, inconsistencies, misunderstandings and confusions apparent in texts which have played a crucial role in shaping public awareness of this branch of medical science for 50 years. In conclusion, it points out that without hearing a range of voices of those women involved in the original experimental research who mostly lost more than they gained, a more compassionate historiography, and a balanced and comprehensive History of this branch of medicine will never be attained.

  • patient narratives
  • history
  • infertility

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  • Contributors FL conceived the design of the research; she conducted the historical work and analysis of the data and completed the writing of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.