Encyclopedia of Reproductive Technologies

By Annette Burfoot | Go to book overview

Part Three
Early Infertility
Treatments

Infertility treatment has entered the scene relatively late in terms of reproductive practices. Initial practice was based on the assumption of fertility. The focus was on women once pregnancy was established and on avoiding pregnancy and birth with contraception and abortion. The treatment of infertility began as highly experimental and was explored by doctors and scientists in the mid-nineteenth century but did not become routine within medical practice until the mid-twentieth century. Preceding the substantial developments in assisted conception of the 1980s, commonly referred to as the new reproductive technologies, there were three basic approaches to infertility: artificial insemination, biochemical interventions within women's reproductive cycles, and pregnancy screening. The field of artificial insemination has recently given more attention to male infertility. Pregnancy screening represents a shift in the conceptualization of infertility, especially since the 1960s, to include the notion of improved fertility.

Artificial insemination is one of the earliest reproductive technologies in contemporary medical practice. The procedure was first tried by scientists and doctors interested in increasing the body of scientific knowledge around reproduction and pushing the medical ability to control reproductivity. Addressing the plight of infertile heterosexual couples was not the motivation for these early explorations. Eventually, however, artificial insemination, especially donor insemination, or DI, was adopted as routine practice in the treatment of infertility by the growing subprofession of obstetricians and gynecologists. This development is important from two different perspectives. First, insemination with sperm that is not from the partner in a heterosexual relationship has raised concerns with paternal rights and responsibilities. These concerns have restricted the medical and state-sanctioned insemination practice in differing ways worldwide. Second, the procedure, which is relatively simple to perform, can be done without medical supervision and offers women reproductive choice. This

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