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American Experience; Test Tube Babies


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American Experience
Test Tube Babies
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Series Description

Premiered October 1988 As television's longest-running, most-watched history series, American Experience brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that helped form this nation. Now in its eighteenth season, the series has produced over 180 programs and garnered every major broadcast award. Series release date: 10/1988

Program Description

She was described in the press as the "Baby of the Century." When Louise Brown, the world's first successful test tube baby, was born in Great Britain on July 25, 1978, the event was heralded as the beginning of a technological revolution in human reproduction. It was the culmination of a decade-long effort to conceive babies through in vitro fertilization, or IVF.

But the birth of Louise Brown came while frustrated scientists in the United States were at a standstill, hampered by a moratorium on federal funding for IVF research and opponents who warned the American public that success would create a "slippery slope."

This American Experience production tells the story of Dr. Landrum Shettles -- a relentless researcher with a singular obsession with creating the world's first test tube baby -- and John and Doris DelZio, a couple willing to be pioneers in this quest. This one-hour film tells of the social, political and legal challenges that dictated the course of IVF research in the United States.

Haunted by the fear that their laboratory interventions in the natural fertilization process would create malformations in the embryo, researchers faced a slew of daunting obstacles. Colleagues were reluctant to collaborate on work they deemed too controversial and government agencies refused to fund their research, believing testing IVF on humans was premature. Progress also met with fierce cultural opposition. The Catholic Church excoriated scientists for taking "the Lord's work into their own hands," and their research became the locus of debate over the limits of science.

Yet after the birth of the healthy Brown baby, privately funded research gained momentum in the U.S. In the early 1980, Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones opened America's first IVF clinic in Norfolk, Virginia. After more than a year of trial and error, their first success story, Elizabeth Carr, was born. Since then, millions of test tube babies have been born worldwide. The story of the first test tube babies is a precursor of the current debate over cloning and stem cell research.



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Broadcast program

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Chicago: “American Experience; Test Tube Babies,” 09/22/2006, GBH Archives, accessed June 2, 2023,
MLA: “American Experience; Test Tube Babies.” 09/22/2006. GBH Archives. Web. June 2, 2023. <>.
APA: American Experience; Test Tube Babies. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from
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