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The First Artificial Insemination Was an Ethical Nightmare

Experimental artificial insemination was attempted as early as 1855, when J. Marion Sims tried it out on slaves without their consent. Of the six women involved, only one got pregnant, and she miscarried. Then in 1884, Philadelphia physician William Pancoast treated a couple for infertility. He determined that the husband had no sperm, but he let the couple think he was going to cure that little problem.

Instead of disclosing any of this information to the couple, though, Pancoast scheduled another “examination” for his patient. Here’s how the first successful artificial insemination took place: In front of six medical students, Pancoast knocked out his patient using chloroform, inseminated her with a rubber syringe, and then packed her cervix with gauze. The source of the semen was one of the medical students in the room, determined to be the most attractive of the bunch.

The medical students were sworn to secrecy, and a healthy baby boy was born. Read the story of those secrets and how they finally came out in the open, at the Atlantic. -via Science Chamber of Horrors 


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