The In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) technique was pioneered in Britain and resulted in the birth of the first 'test tube baby' in 1978. It is used when a woman has blocked fallopian tubes, or some other impediment to the union of sperm and ovum in the reproductive tract.
The mother to be is given hormone therapy which usually results in a number of ova maturing at the same time. These ova are then removed from the ovary using special equipment. The ova are mixed with sperm and incubated until the early stage of embryonic development is seen. The 'embryo' is then implanted in the mother's uterus and the pregnancy allowed to continue normally.
IVF is not provided by the public health services in Ireland. However, it is provided to a very limited extent, by private consultants and clinics. It is not covered under private health insurance. Tax relief can be claimed on the costs involved in IVF treatment by submitting the Med 1 form.
While there is currently no legislation dealing with IVF, there are guidelines for doctors issued by the Irish Medical Council. It is ethical for doctors to provide the service under certain rules.
A Government Commission on Assisted Reproduction is examining the area and is due to make recommendations.