Many think of artificial insemination as a modern-day technology, but the first successful human artificial insemination in the 1950s was predated by centuries of scientific study and experimentation.
Artificial insemination, the process by which sperm is planted in the female reproductive tract to artificially impregnate the female, began in the lab and was first tested on animals. Modern techniques used in human artificial insemination were first used on cattle by dairy farmers wishing to improve milk production by impregnating cows with the sperm of bulls with preferable genetic traits.
Unofficial history claims that crude attempts to artificially inseminate Juana, the wife of King Henry IV of Castile in the 1400s, was an early endeavor to artificially impregnate an infertile couple.
Milestones in the History of Human Artificial Insemination
- 1790 – John Hunter first reports artificial insemination in medical literature.
- 1899 – Efforts begin in Russia to develop practical methods for human artificial insemination.
- 1909 – Human artificial insemination grows more controversial. The Catholic Church objects to all forms of artificial insemination.
- 1939 – The first animal, a rabbit, is conceived by artificial insemination.
- Mid 1940s – Artificial insemination becomes an established industry. In Nazi Germany, doctors performed artificial insemination experiments on Jews, gypsies and concentration camp internees.
- 1949 – Scientists develop improved methods of freezing and thawing sperm.
- 1950 – Cornell University scientists discover that antibiotics can be added to the sperm solution in artificial insemination processes.
- 1953 – the first successful pregnancy from artificial insemination of frozen sperm is reported.
- 1970s – The sperm bank industry is developed and aritificial insemination becomes commercialized.
Human Artificial Insemination Today
As the end of the 20th century neared, controversy and concern over artificial insemination in humans faded and the demand for donor sperm increased.
By 1987, US doctors were performing artificial insemination on about 172,000 women per year, resulting in some 65,000 births.
Legal issues, particularly in artificial insemination cases with donor sperm, have raised debate over the parental rights of sperm donors, privacy rights and the ethics in sperm donor banks for artificial insemination.
Some European countries have regulations that deem artificial insemination babies as legitimate offspring of the mother’s husband; other countries have not addressed the issue in the law.