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EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2000

Keynote Lecture

Technology and human reproduction 1950-2050

The invention of the Pill and of intrauterine devices [IUDs] during the last forty years of the second millennium has for the first time separated the coital act from contraception. The wide and continuing acceptance of the Pill has started us on the inexorable path toward the separation of sex [now largely for pleasure] and procreation. During the past twenty years – primarily through rapid advances in assisted reproductive technologies – such separation has become even more pronounced with an added ethical dimension.

With the Pill, it is possible to have sexual intercourse without creating new life. But with some of the newer in vitro fertilization techniques, new life can be created without sexual intercourse. As a result, while during the past half century, the catchword in human reproduction was "contraception," it will, surely be replaced by "conception" during the next half-century and beyond.

The consequences - ranging from sex predetermination and preimplantation genetic screening to postmenopausal pregnancies – will be enormous. Widespread use of gamete storage may make contraception unnecessary by replacing it with early sterilization.