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IVF 'guinea pig' nearly died

FORMER Gisborne woman Sandra Crashley claims IVF pioneer Patrick Steptoe experimented on her and — without consent — “took half of my ovaries”.

The health consequences have plagued the remainder of her life and form the basis of her new book, The Testimony of an IVF Guinea Pig, published in Gisborne.

British-born Mrs Crashley was living in Oldham near Manchester as a young woman in 1970. She was suffering menstrual pain, and Mr Steptoe recommended dilation and curettage.

“I think his attitude was experimental," she said. "I nearly died.”

Mrs Crashley remained in hospital for a month, and a year later she sought advice from another specialist as she could not stand up. The second specialist had to remove her uterus.

Only then she discovered that Mr Steptoe had stitched through her colon, stitched her bladder to her uterus and “taken half of my ovaries”.

Mr Steptoe died in 1988. His colleague Robert Edwards received the 2010 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work in developing IVF.

Mrs Crashley was moved to write an earlier electronic version of her book in 2010 after the death of Lesley Brown, the first woman to give birth after IVF treatment from Mr Steptoe and Mr Edwards back in 1978.

Ms Brown had many health problems in later years “just like me,” Mrs Crashley said.

She believes she, Ms Brown and the IVF treatment patients she met while in Oldham Hospital were treated like guinea pigs.

Mr Steptoe has been lauded for the his work in developing IVF, despite some criticism in medical circles. As he said himself, “most ethical disagreements have been vaporised by the pragmatism of 1,000,000 IVF babies.’’

But BioEdge, an online publication, says “The landmark 1970 paper in The Lancet by Edwards and Steptoe, which announced that they had recovered human eggs with Steptoe’s innovative laparoscopy, barely mentions the ethics of how these were obtained.

Crash through or crash attitude“A self-published book by a former patient of Patrick Steptoe, Sandra Crashley, ought to raise some questions about the crash through or crash attitude of the IVF pioneers.”

Mrs Crashley’s book, published by Lovely Books of Gisborne, includes a preface by Susan Bewley, Professor of Complex Obstetrics at Kings College, London.

Professor Bewley writes that Mrs Crashley’s “compelling story’’ happened in an era of deference when research ethics committees did not yet exist.

Mrs Crashley said that even today, IVF resulted in birth in only 20 percent of cases, and very few people knew that. The media spotlight only shone on the success stories or extreme cases like the 70-year-old woman in India giving birth for the first time.

“It’s crazy,” she said.

Mrs Crashley said she had been contacted by many women since the publication of her e-book.

"They have been let down by IVF. They haven’t got a baby. They have lost all hope.”

She has since become part of an international network of women concerned by what they see as IVF abuse.

“I am their grandmother.’’

Mrs Crashley now lives in Opotiki with husband Mike. She will soon travel to England on a speaking tour, including an engagement at Kings College, Cambridge.

DOCUMENTING HER ORDEAL: Sandra Crashley has published a new book, The Testimony of an IVF Guinea Pig, in which she claims she still suffers from surgery conducted 40 years ago by IVF developer Patrick Steptoe. The former Gisborne woman, now living in Opotiki, says the late Mr Steptoe imperiously “butchered” her in what was effectively a non-consensual medical experiment. ‘‘He took half of my ovaries.’’ Surgery conducted in her native England by the test tube pioneer shocked her into early menopause, rapid aging and almost permanently confined her to a wheelchair, she claims. The book documents her story and research into the pioneering treatment and was published in Gisborne. Picture by Paul Rickard