An early progenitor of IVF?

The Spectator (UK) is describing it as “The strange tale of how 500 women were helped to conceive after the first world war”. A better summary would be: how a founder of the International Planned Parenthood Federation did her bit for assisted reproduction in the days before test-tube babies.

Dr Helena Wright (1887–1982) was a pioneering British gynaecologist. Amongst her achievements were persuading the Church of England to abandon its opposition to contraception at the 1930 Lambeth conference, crusading for birth control, writing best-sellers on sex therapy, organising illegal adoptions and abortions and supporting the British Eugenics Society.

After World War I women married to impaired men went to her Knightsbridge and Notting Hill clinics to help them have children. Her response was social rather than medical. She acted as a broker for a young American-born man, Derek, who slept with her clients so that they could become pregnant. Between  1917 and 1950 he fathered – so The Spectator claims – 485 children for Dr Wright’s primitive sperm donor service plus 9 children from his own marriage and other relationships.

The author of the article, Paul Spicer, describes this arrangement as an exercise of great altruism: “providing longed-for children where there would have been none”. There is no consideration of the effect upon the clients’ marriages, the impact of secrecy upon parenting, the danger of sexually-transmitted disease, the illegal nature of the arrangement and all the problems which surround sperm donation. 

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | assisted reproduction, Helena Wright, IVF, sperm donation

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