Teratogens are substances that may produce physical or functional defects in the human embryo or fetus after the pregnant woman is exposed to the substance. Alcohol and cocaine are examples of such substances. Exposure to the teratogen affects the fetus or embryo in a variety of ways, such as the duration of exposure, the amount of teratogenic substance, and the stage of development the embryo or fetus is in during the exposure. Teratogens may affect the embryo or fetus in a number of ways, causing physical malformations, problems in the behavioral or emotional development of the child, and decreased intellectual quotient IQ in the child. Additionally, teratogens may also affect pregnancies and cause complications such as preterm labors, spontaneous abortions, or miscarriages. Teratogens are classified into four types: physical agents, metabolic conditions, infection, and finally, drugs and chemicals.

During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Robert Paul Lanza studied embryonic stem cells, tissues, and endangered species as chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology, Incorporated in Worcester, Massachusetts. Lanza's team cloned the endangered species of gaur Bos gaurus. Although the gaur did not survive long, Lanza successfully cloned another cow-like creature, called the banteng (Bos javanicus). Lanza also worked on cloning human embryos to harvest stem cells, which could be used to treat dieases. While previous techniques required the embryo's destruction, Lanza developed a harvesting technique that does not destroy the embryo, forestalling many ethical objections to human embryonic research.

Edwin Carlyle Wood, also known as Carl Wood, was a physician who helped develop in vitro fertilization, or IVF, treatments. From 1964 to 1992, Wood worked as a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, where he was one of the first in the world to lead a team of physicians to establish IVF as a proven treatment for infertility. IVF refers to a medical procedure in which scientists inseminate an egg cell with a sperm cell outside of the body, such as in a glass dish in a clinical setting. Wood helped establish some of the first successful IVF pregnancies and births, and his findings throughout his years of practice helped to standardize the procedure. Wood also advocated for the right for women to have an abortion, and co-founded the Family Planning Association of Victoria in Australia at a time when there were not many abortion clinics in operation. Through his early contributions to IVF, Wood provided new options for people to have offspring, which as of 2021, has up to a 21.3 percent chance of producing a live birth.

On 29 September 1973, researchers David De Kretzer, Peter Dennis, Bryan Hudson, John Leeton, Alexander Lopata, Ken Outch, James Talbot, and Carl Wood published “Transfer of a Human Zygote,” in The Lancet. In the article, the authors describe an experiment that resulted in one of the first pregnancies established via in vitro fertilization, or IVF. Prior to the article’s publication in 1973, there was no published evidence demonstrating whether IVF treatment would work in humans, although evidence existed showing that IVF worked in other mammals for breeding purposes. At the end of the article, the authors state that the embryo failed to implant into the wall of the patient’s uterus, leading to a miscarriage less than a week after the authors found evidence of pregnancy in the patient. The authors of “Transfer of a Human Zygote” were some of the first researchers to perform IVF, although unsuccessfully, which contributed to the overall understanding of IVF as an emerging technology.

In 2018, He Jiankui uploaded a series of videos to a YouTube channel titled “The He Lab” that detailed one of the first instances of a successful human birth after genome editing had been performed on an embryo using CRISPR-cas9. CRISPR-cas9 is a genome editing tool derived from bacteria that can be used to cut out and replace specific sequences of DNA. He genetically modified embryos at his lab in Shenzhen, China, to make them immune to contracting HIV through indirect perinatal transmission from their father, who was infected with the virus. HIV is a virus that attacks the immune cells of its host and weakens their ability to fight off diseases. At the time of He’s experiment, various treatments already existed at that could prevent the fetuses from contracting HIV without the need for gene surgery. Nonetheless, He’s experiment led to one of the first successful births of fetuses resulting from genetically modified embryos. He kept his experiment secret until he uploaded the videos announcing the birth of the fetuses, born as two twin girls. The experiment discussed in the videos was successful, but many scientists criticized the experiment due to ethical concerns with the way He conducted it.

In Jeter v. Mayo, the Court of Appeals of Arizona in 2005 held that a cryopreserved, three-day-old pre-embryo is not a person for purposes of Arizona's wrongful death statutes, and that the Arizona Legislature was best suited to decide whether to expand the law to include cryopreserved pre-embryos. The Court of Appeals affirmed a decision by the Maricopa County Superior Court to dismiss a couple's wrongful death claim after the Mayo Clinic (Mayo) allegedly lost or destroyed several of their cryopreserved pre-embryos. In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeals explored ethical and legal issues relating to cryopreserved pre-embryos, including prior case law, the principles of statutory construction, and the Arizona Legislature's role in balancing the societal interests involved.

Forbes v. Napolitano (2000) was a US court case that established that Arizona researchers could use fetal tissues from induced abortions for basic scientific research, for instance, as a source of stem cells. The case challenged the constitutionality of the Arizona Revised Statute (ARS) 36-2303 in the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals, a law that banned researchers from using fetal tissues from abortions for any type of medical experimentation or investigation. The Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals decision in Forbes v. Napolitano set a precedent in Arizona that allowed researchers and physicians to use tissues from aborted fetuses for medical research and treatments. Arizona later passed a state law in 2016 that sought to make obsolete the decision reached in Forbes v. Napolitano by revising ARS 36-2303 to avoid the problems the court had found with it.

To Lynn M. Morgan, the Mary E. Woolley Professor of Anthropology at Mt. Holyoke College, nothing says life more than a dead embryo. In her easily readable book, Icons of Life: A Cultural History of Human Embryos, Morgan brings together cultural phenomena, ethics, and embryology to show that even dead embryos and fetuses have their own stories to tell. As an anthropologist, Morgan is interested in many things, including the science of embryology and its history. But she also wants to know how culture influences our views on embryos and the material practices that accompany their study. Her intent is to establish a relationship between specimens collected in the remote past and the contemporary cultural politics of abortion (p. xiii). The eight chapters in Icons of Life do not provide an exhaustive historical look at early American embryology, but they do weave together the Carnegie Institute of Washington Embryology Department (CIWED), its major human embryo collector Franklin Paine Mall, and how early twentieth-century science worked. Morgan ably describes the CIWEDÕs early foray into embryo collecting, but she wants to do more than just describe how embryos made their way to the laboratory. She wants us to ask why it was even possible for such a thing to happen without so much as a fuss being made from the public. This involves looking at culture.

Cocaine use by pregnant women has a variety of effects on the embryo and fetus, ranging from various gastro-intestinal and cardiac defects to tissue death from insufficient blood supply. Thus, cocaine has been termed a teratogen, or an agent that causes defects in fetuses during prenatal development. Cocaine is one of the most commonly used drugs in the US and it has a history of both medical and illegal recreational use. It is a drug capable of a wide array of effects on physical and mental health. Research on the teratogenic effects of cocaine began in the early 1980s, and in 1985 research on the effects of cocaine on prenatal development gained widespread attention. Since then, numerous studies have contributed to information about the detrimental impacts of maternal cocaine use on embryonic and fetal development.

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