On July 25, 1978, the whole world learned the birth of the first "baby test tube": Louise Brown, a girl of 2.6 kilos, whose mother had been declared "sterile". The British Jean Purdy is part of the team of scientists who contributed to this success.
With biologist Robert Edwards and gynecologist Patrick Steptoe, Jean Purdy – herself a nurse and embryologist – has been working for years to develop an innovative method of procreation. The idea? Allow fertilization outside the woman's body. After hundreds of attempts, the challenge is raised. In vitro fertilization (IVF) becomes effective with the birth of Louise Brown in 1978. It is a world feat. To date, as indicated Release, more than six million babies conceived by IVF are born in the world.
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A contribution ignored
Still, the name of Jean Purdy is almost nowhere. In 1980, Robert Edwards himself wrote to the Oldham Area Health Authority. His claim? The inauguration of plaques in IVF hospitals to "pay tribute" to the scientists who developed the technique. He does not forget to mention Jean Purdy. And the answer is not long. It is informed that the wording will be as follows: "The first in vitro fertilization resulting in pregnancy was carried out in this hospital by Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards and their auxiliary staff in November 1977." The name of Jean Purdy, like others, is passed over in silence. What Edwards is protesting.
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In a letter from 1981, the scientist writes, "I firmly believe that the names of the people who made Louise Brown's design possible must be written down." He also states, "I am particularly thinking of Jean Purdy, who has traveled to Oldham with me for ten years and contributed so much to the project. (…) Indeed, I consider it as a contributor equal to Patrick Steptoe and myself. "In vain.
Victim of sexism?
It is now possible to have access to Robert Edwards' letters, held at the University of Cambridge. For Madelin Evans, in charge of their archiving, nothing explains why the name of Purdy was omitted. "It's hard to guess what they thought at the time," she says. The Independent. "It was the 1980s, and I guess it must have been because she was a nurse, an embryologist, and a woman." Was it sexism? Probably, Judge Madelin Evans. "I think that was one of the factors, like the fact that nurses were not considered as important as doctors and scientists."
Jean Purdy, co-author of 26 articles with Steptoe and Edwards, died in 1985. However, his name appears on a plaque, installed in 2015 outside what is now Kershaw's Hospice, Oldham Hospital where was born Louise Brown in 1978.
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