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Making Babies in the 21st Century

Discover the opportunities provided by reproductive technologies and fertility treatments – and the ethical challenges they pose.

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A needle artificially inseminating an egg
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Explore how assisted reproduction is impacting baby-making in the 21st century

Following the journey of someone making use of technology to conceive, this course will take you through six different areas of assisted reproduction, as well as the science behind them and its impact.

As you explore human reproduction in the age of technology, you’ll explore the social, ethical, and legal challenges of powerful new genetic techniques creating new opportunities in the field of reproduction.

Learning with experts at UCL’s Institute for Women’s Health, you’ll explore how technology is changing the way babies are made and family life is constructed, appreciate the key ethical dilemmas that these new technologies bring, and gain awareness of the social aspects of the relevant ethical challenges.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 3 seconds Welcome to Making Babies in the 21st Century.

Skip to 0 minutes and 11 seconds This course explores the new technologies in assisted fertility and looks at the impact they’re having on individuals and couples, as well as society in general. My name is Dan Reisel and I work at the Institute for Women’s Health at University College London, where I do research and co-ordinate the module on the ethics of assisted reproduction. Over the next six weeks, we will look at some of the most fascinating - and controversial - issues in modern fertility medicine, and we will hear the stories of people involved in using these technologies.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds “If you are wondering why we are doing this course, or why you should care about this stuff, it’s because somebody, some folks out there in the world, really need to be abreast of these questions, they need to be alive to the implications, the social, the cultural, the ethical, the legal implications of these kinds of developments, and be able to constitute, and engage in, a really important, absolutely vital, social debate. We will also speak with clinicians, both in the private sector and in the NHS, as well as leading scientists and academics working in this field. This gives an opportunity to learn from the world leading experts and for you to contribute to this vital conversation.

Skip to 1 minute and 26 seconds This course if for anyone interested in learning more about these new technologies and how they are changing the oldest of human endeavours - the business of making babies. I look forward to welcoming you to this course, and I hope you will enjoy your learning.


  • Week 1

    Seeking fertility

    • Welcome to the course

      Welcome to Making Babies in the 21st Century!

    • Welcome to Week 1

      Welcome to the first week of Making Babies!

    • Seeking fertility online

      First we will listen to the stories of people who either seek or provide fertility services online, outside of the regulatory setting.

    • Ethical considerations

      Creating a new life involves important choices. Here we look at the some of the key ethical issues at stake.

    • Legal and regulatory implications

      What are the key legal and regulatory issues involved?

    • Views and perspectives

      Two different views on the relative merits of the regulated and the unregulated fertility sector.

    • Your views and summary of the week

      What do you think about the growing practice of social egg freezing?

  • Week 2

    Freezing eggs

    • Welcome to Week 2

      Introduction to this weeks' topic of social egg freezing.

    • Why I chose to freeze my eggs

      Kalliope tells her story about why she has chosen to freeze her eggs.

    • A visit to a fertility clinic

      An opportunity to hear from the senior staff at one of London's premier fertility clinics, the CRGH, which works in close collaboration with UCL.

    • Potential concerns around egg freezing

      What are the worries that have been voiced about this technology?

    • Ethical implications

      Given the above concerns, what are the key ethical implications?

    • Views and perspectives

      We listen to a broad-ranging conversation between a group of young women facing this choice in their own lives.

    • Your views and summary of the week

      What do you think about the merits of social egg freezing?

  • Week 3

    Using gametes

    • Welcome to Week 3

      This week we'll look at fertility treatment using egg and sperm donation, and in particular the role of the donor in the life of the child that is conceived.

    • Lyn's story

      Here we meet Lyn and have the opportunity to listen to her story.

    • Donor conception and anonymity

      A deeper look at the issues involved in donor conception from a range of different perspectives.

    • Ethical controversies

      What are the key ethical issues involved?

    • Legal and regulatory implications

      What are the key issues involved?

    • Views and perspectives

      Differing views on the topic of anonymity and disclosure.

    • Your views and summary of the week

      What is your views on anonymity, disclosure and donor-conception?

  • Week 4

    Crossing borders

    • Welcome to Week 4

      International surrogacy and the growing international fertility industry

    • Papiha's story

      Meet Papiha, a surrogate at the Akanksha Clinic, Gujarat, Northwestern India.

    • Exploring international surrogacy

      What can research tell us about the practice of international surrogacy?

    • Ethical considerations

      What are the key ethical issues involved?

    • Legal implications

      What are the key legal issues involved?

    • Views and perspectives

      Differing views on the topic of cross-border reproductive care and the international fertility industry.

    • Your views and summary of the week

      What do you think about the growing practice of international surrogacy?

  • Week 5

    Genetic testing

    • Welcome to Week 5

      Exploring the ethics of genetic profiling of embryos and babies in early pregnancy.

    • Louise's story

      How recurrent miscarriage almost made Louise give up hope of conceiving her own children.

    • Genetic testing of embryos

      Within the context of IVF, cells can be sampled from the embryo in the first few days after conception. Before the embryo is implanted in the woman's womb, the cells can be tested for genetic abnormalities.

    • Genetic testing in early pregnancy

      Genetic testing in early pregnancy just got an upgrade. It is now possible to test the DNA of the developing fetus by taking a simple blood test from the mother. Will this revolutionise antenatal care?

    • Ethical considerations

      What are the key ethical issues involved?

    • Legal and regulatory implications

      What are the key legal and regulatory issues involved?

    • Views and perspectives

      Differing views on this topic.

    • Your views and summary of the week

      Your views on genetic testing of embryos and babies in early pregnancy.

  • Week 6

    Genome editing

    • Welcome to Week 6

      In the final week of the course, we'll examine three ways in which we are starting to edit the human genome.

    • Rachael's story

      Rachael has retinoblastoma, a heritable disorder that can cause blindness. Intense research is underway to use gene therapy to limit the effects of this gene error.

    • Editing the human genome

      A look at the fascinating science of human genome editing

    • Ethical implications

      What are the key ethical issues involved human genome editing?

    • Legal and regulatory considerations

      What are the key legal and regulatory issues involved?

    • Views and perspectives

      Genome editing is now a reality but the question remains: how should it be applied and who is to decide?

    • Your views and summary of the week

      What do you think about the prospect of scientists being able to edit the human genome?

    • Course summary

      Reflect on your learning over the last six weeks of Making Babies

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

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Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Following the course, learners will be able to synthesise information from a number of different fields.
  • Critically assess the accuracy and value of information about assisted fertility that is provided in the public domain (i.e., on the internet).
  • Be able to confidently contribute to the vital societal conversation around the use of reproductive and genetic technologies.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the science and ethics-legal aspects of assisted fertility.
  • Develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which fertility medicine is changing the way babies are born and the way families are constructed.
  • Be able to explain how each of the technologies covered in the course are changing the way people think about fertility and families.
  • Be able to reflect critically on the advantages and disadvantages of the new reproductive technologies.

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone interested in learning more about reproductive technology, including medical and healthcare students, clinicians and nurses working in women’s health, scientists and biotechnologists involved in reproductive technology and medicine, and couples and individuals seeking advice and information about assisted reproduction.

Healthcare professionals might find the Certificate of Achievement for this course useful for providing evidence of Continuing Professional Development (CPD), or commitment to their career.

Who will you learn with?

Senior Research Associate, Institute for Women's Health (UCL). Coordinator of the ethics teaching on the Institute's MSc courses, researcher in preventive medicine and bioethics in Women's Health

Research Associate in the Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research, Newcastle University. Research interests include preventing mitochondrial disease transmission and developing treatments.

Molecular geneticist and lecturer in reproductive science at UCL. Programme Director for the MSc in Reproductive Science and Women's Health at University College London.

Who developed the course?

UCL (University College London)

UCL was founded in 1826. It was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, and the first to open up university education to those previously excluded from it.


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