Here's what wiki has to say:
In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a process by which egg cells are fertilized by sperm outside of the womb, in vitro. IVF is a major treatment in infertility when other methods of assisted reproductive technology have failed. The process involves hormonally controlling the ovulatory process, removing ova (eggs) from the woman's ovaries and letting sperm fertilise them in a fluid medium. The fertilized egg (zygote) is then transferred to the patient's uterus with the intent to establish a successful pregnancy. The first test tube baby was born in 1978.
Which all sounds simple, but first there is the issue of getting an egg, or eggs to fertilize.
Human eggs don't sit in the ovary all ready, like a package of hen eggs at the store.
The ovary is full of unready eggs, which your body preps, usually one at a time, on a monthly basis.
To do IVF, the doctors "fool" the body into preparing a batch of eggs:
Treatment cycles are typically started on the third day of menstruation and consist of a regimen of fertility medications to stimulate the development of multiple follicles of the ovaries. In most patients injectable gonadotropins (usually FSH analogues) are used under close monitoring. Such monitoring frequently checks the estradiol level and, by means of gynecologic ultrasonography, follicular growth. Typically approximately 10 days of injections will be necessary.
This is a seriously no-fun process.
I had a friend who went through this.
You know all that hormonal roller coaster stuff around your period?
Like that, but more so, and with needles.
At this stage yet another hormone shot (human chorionic gonadotropin (β-hCG) is given, then:
The eggs are retrieved from the patient using a transvaginal technique
involving an ultrasound-guided needle piercing the vaginal wall to
reach the ovaries. Through this needle follicles can be aspirated, and
the follicular fluid is handed to the IVF laboratory to identify ova.
It is common to remove between ten and thirty eggs. The retrieval
procedure takes about 20 minutes and is usually done under conscious sedation or general anesthesia.
Embryos then get transferred to the uterus either at the 2 day-old (6-8 cells) or 5 day-old (70-100 cells) stage.
Or they can be frozen for later use.
This is where the insanity comes in.
There is no way to predict how many eggs will be harvested, nor, once they are fertilized in a petrie dish, how many of those embryos will be good.
Because not all eggs, and not all sperm are equal.
In nature, defective sperm mostly don't manage the long trek to an egg, or can't manage to enter it.
In nature a defective egg, or a defective embryo often doesn't attach, and no one even knows a pregnancy occurred.
That is, in nature the woman's body culls the potential offspring regularly.
But in fertility treatments, this culling must be done consciously.
In an attempt to create a single, viable birth, they will be dealing with a number of embyos, and they cannot know how many to implant to accomplish that (ideally) single birth.
Sometimes the fertility people can grade the available embryos, and just implant the best ones.
Sometimes they implant two or three, and only one – or none – survives.
Sometimes women have to go through multiple attempts to make this work.
Sometimes it doesn't work at all.
But often, in hopes of getting at least one good birth, they end up with twins or more.
Almost always, though, when the woman has gone through this process, and has managed to have her one or two babies, there are leftover embryos, (70-100 cells), in expensive frozen storage.
These are what the infant stem cell people are talking about.
And this is the point where the terms of the discussion start tripping people up.
Earlier this week I heard a lovely, well-meaning lady on the radio explaining how she didn't want little babies like these to be killed.
How there was a shortage of adoptable babies in this country.
And if only people would adopt these babies, then there wouldn't be any problem.
We are talking about "little babies" you can only see in a microscope, that you pick up with a pipette.
If you wanted to adopt one of these, you would have to have a doctor implant it in your own uterus and carry it to term.
(And, frankly, most women willing to go through that procedure want to have some biological connection to the infant – even couples seeking an egg donor expect it to be fertilized by the husband.)
Crazy-lady-with-the-litter-of-eight apparently just wanted to birth all her fertilized embryos.
No doubt believing that everyone of them needed to come into the world once egg and sperm had been united.
She may be screamingly insane (my bet).
But she is also merely carrying to its logical end the notion that each of these little bundle of cells is already a person.
And now they are.
All fourteen of them.