in 1884

“An English Song Thrush.-A queer nesting place.” from Young Days: Plays and Ways of Little Ones at Home, with Instructive Stories. Fully Illustrated. Boston: D. Lothrop and Company, 1884.

First Artificial Insemination Was An Ethical Nightmare

During the first successful artificial insemination in 1884, a woman was chloroformed in front of six medical students and the “most attractive” student gave his semen. She had come to Dr. William Pancoast due to her inability to conceive. Pancoast worked with her, but eventually determined it was her husband’s low sperm count that was the issue. Rather than do something like, I don’t know, tell them? The doctor instead decided to do a surprise artificial insemination! Neither the husband nor the wife was told. She became pregnant after one last “treatment” with Dr. Pancoast and gave birth to a healthy baby boy nine months later.

When the child was born, Pancoast told the husband the truth of the child’s parentage. They mutually decided not to tell the woman – who had carried the child in her body for nine months – what had happened. Great ethics, Mr. Doctor! In fact, no one besides the six medical students, Dr. Pancoast, and the husband knew what they had done because everyone swore an oath of secrecy.

Twenty-five years later, one of the medical students contacts the now-grown baby. He wants to write an article about what had happened. For science and the advancement of medicine and all that. The child was a 25-year-old businessman living in New York, the medical student kindly informed him of the details of his conception, before going off to publish that article. His letter in Medical World describing the case hit the newsstands in 1909. And as far as anyone knows, that’s how the poor mother found out her child’s parentage.