Traffic in “Embryo Babies”

Lynn M. Morgan

in Icons of Life

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 2009 | ISBN: 9780520260436
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520944725 | DOI:
Traffic in “Embryo Babies”

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This chapter looks at the social and medical circumstances that generated a reliable supply of embryo specimens. It considers the health and welfare of pregnant women in early twentieth-century Baltimore, and the circumstances that caused pregnancy loss. The availability of specimens was contingent on myriad factors that made women susceptible to pregnancy, pregnancy loss, and obstetrical surgery, including a moralistic social context that stigmatized out-of-wedlock birth and led to the deaths of one-third of illegitimate infants. In Boston in the 1930s an obstetrical surgeon teamed up with an embryological pathologist to ferret out the very earliest human embryos, which still remained to be found even after two decades of searching. The charismatic duo known as the “the Ham and the Egg” found what they were looking for by examining the wombs of 210 women subjected to hysterectomy. Such specimens, when they were later featured in embryological textbooks and museum exhibits, were described as “naturally occurring”.

Keywords: embryo specimens; pregnant women; Baltimore; human embryos; the Ham and the Egg; hysterectomy

Chapter.  15194 words. 

Subjects: Medical Anthropology

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