What is fertility?

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

Fertility is the natural ability of humans to reproduce. Estimates suggest that as many as 10 per cent of couples will face fertility problems and be either unable to reproduce, or need treatment to help them do so.

What types of fertility treatment 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).

What alternatives to fertility treatment are there?

  • 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, or completely unrelated to the baby, eg if an already fertilised ovum or embryo was placed in her womb.
  • Adoption – a single person or couple takes on legal responsibility for bringing up a child who was born to someone else.

What is cloning?

Cloning is the genetic identical copying of an organism. The DNA of both organisms is identical in every respect.

What types of cloning are there?

  • Reproductive cloning – a technology to produce an animal which is genetically identical to another animal. The process is called 'somatic cell nuclear transfer' (SCNT). Genetic material is taken from the nucleus of a donor cell and placed in an ovum whose nucleus has been removed. Various treatments are given to the ovum to encourage cell division. When it reaches a suitable stage it is placed in the uterus of a female host and birth will potentially follow. In the UK, reproductive cloning is prohibited in humans.
  • Therapeutic (stem cell) cloning – the production of human embryos to use in research. The intention is not to produce living creatures, but to collect stem cells so that they can be used to treat disease and to increase understanding of human development. The stem cells are extracted from the ovum at the blastocyst stage (this begins five days after fertilisation in humans). This process destroys the embryo.