About Dr. Landrum B. Shettles
Millions know Dr. Shettles because of his famous book about choosing the sex of your baby. But he was also known as a pioneer in infertility treatment, and one of the first experimenters with human conception outside the human body. He is sometimes even called "the father of in vitro fertilization (IVF)", and developed the method called GIFT (gamete intrafallopian transfer) for patients who couldn't use normal IVF. He also developed methods for photographing babies in the womb at only a few weeks of gestation, and his work with human conception led him to oppose abortion.
Dr. Shettles and the First IVF Baby (Almost)
The book Pandora's Baby: How the First Test Tube Babies Sparked the Reproductive Revolution
describes how Dr. Shettles was almost
for the first test tube baby. In 1973, a desperate John and Doris Del-Zios turned to Dr. William Sweeney of New York Hospital, who collabarated with Dr. Shettles at Columbia-Presbyterian to attempt the first IVF treatment. Shettles had been experimenting with sperm and eggs since the 1950s, when no one believed that fertilization outside the human body could possibly result in pregnancy, much less a living, healthy baby. But while the Del-Zios embryos were incubating in a borrowed lab, Shettles, "in his rapid, excited twitter, proceeded to tell everyone he met
that he was brewing a test-tube baby on the 16th floor".
When Columbia officials learned of the rogue experiment, it was destroyed. Shettles' boss was sued by the Del-Zios for the loss of their potential biological child; and there was probably little doubt in the minds of the jurors that that potential had been real, because the trial occurred the same month as the celebrated birth of Louise Brown, the world's first "test tube baby", in England.
Shettles had already been considered a maverick, and many of his colleagues disapproved of the "bad science" in his book on choosing your baby's sex. Bypassing ethics guidelines for human experimentation in the Del-Zios case cost him his job, and ruined his reputation.
Dr. Shettles Against Abortion
In his book Rites of Life: The Scientific Evidence for Life Before
, Dr. Shettles described each stage in the development of the human fetus from conception to birth. He argued that abortion should be prohibited from the clear evidence that life begins at conception. His work with human conception, and the life of the fetus in the womb, are widely cited in anti-abortion texts.
"I oppose abortion. I do so, first, because I accept what is biologically
manifest - that human life commences at the time of conception - and second,
because I believe it is wrong to take innocent human life under any
circumstances. My position is scientific, pragmatic and humanitarian."
-- Dr. Landrum B. Shettles
Dr. Shettles, Inventor of GIFT
In the 1970s, Dr. Shettles developed the technique now known as gamete intrafallopian transfer, or GIFT. GIFT is very similar to IVF, except that in IVF embryos that have been incubated are placed in the woman's uterus; with GIFT, the egg and sperm are placed directly in the mother's Fallopian tubes, where they would have met under normal conditions. Because fertilization takes place naturally, inside the mother's body instead of in a laboratory, patients using GIFT do not face the dilemma of how to dispose of extra embryos faced by those using IVF.