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Artificial fertilization is an umbrella term for many types of fertilization which do not occur through sexual contact between a man and a woman. During these processes, health professionals manipulate the sperm and oocytes (eggs) to increase the chances of pregnancy.
Artificial fertilization is often called artificial reproduction or assisted reproductive technology.
Couples who struggle with infertility or have difficulties conceiving naturally may turn to artificial fertilization to have a child.
There are three main types of artificial fertilization currently used in modern medicine. During In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), a woman receives hormonal drugs to encourage the production of ripe eggs and prepare the body for pregnancy. Her eggs are retrieved from her ovaries and placed in a test tube where they are united with a man’s sperm. Once fertilization has occurred, the zygotes are implanted into the woman’s uterus.
The second type of artificial fertilization is Zygote IntraFallopian Transfer (ZIFT). Like IVF, the fertilization in ZIFT occurs outside a woman’s body. However, the zygotes are placed in the fallopian tubes rather than the uterus.
Gamete IntraFallopian Transfer (GIFT) is the final type of artificial fertilization practiced today. A woman’s eggs are placed in a pipette with the man’s sperm. An air bubble separates these entities. They do not meet until they are injected into a woman’s fallopian tubes.
While many people celebrate artificial fertilization’s potential to make couples parents who otherwise could not conceive, the technology carries some moral issues. Some people disagree with the genetic screening which is conducted as part of the treatment. If zygotes are shown to have genetic abnormalities, such as Down’s syndrome, they are typically discarded. If more pregnancies result from the procedure than intended, a woman can "selectively reduce" the number of babies she’s carrying. Just like abortion, some argue that this process is morally problematic as it kills life. In addition, the high probability some frozen zygotes will not survive makes this practice morally questionable in the eyes of some people.
Artificial fertilization should not be confused with artificial insemination, or the use of a sperm donor. During artificial fertilization both the egg and sperm are manipulated, unlike during artificial insemination when only the sperm is manipulated.