Dr. Landrum Shettles

Can you choose the sex of your baby? Dr. Landrum Shettles devoted a large portion of his life to answer that question. Quite a number of notable scientists have their names written on the wall of fame for their immense contributions to science in their respective fields. History remembers great men not by the number of years lived but by what they were able to accomplish during the course of their lives and the impact they brought to their generation. Landrum Shettles is one of such men who through his contributions brought new light to the study of embryology. Now we learn about this great man and we find out who he was and what he accomplished during his life time that has left a mark in history. Like all great scientist he had a lot of critics who did not approve with his method but this didn’t hinder him as he continued to push on to become one of the notable contributors to the study of embryology, In vitro fertilization (IVF) and the determination of child sex.

Dr. Landrum Brewer Shettles was a Biologist, who lived between 1903 – 2003. He was born to Sue Mounce and Brazil Manly Shettles in Pontotoc, Mississippi, United States of America on the 21st of November, 1909. He acquired his BA from Mississippi College in 1933, and went on to become a Fellow at the University of New Mexico from 1933 to 1934. He later attended the prestigious John Hopkins University, from where he obtained his PhD in 1937 and also his MD in 1943. Shettles completed his Internship in obstetrics and gynecology in 1934 at same John Hopkins, and later went on to serve in the United States Medical Corps before beginning his residency at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York from 1947 to 1951.

He trained and worked at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center as a gynecologist from 1951 to 1973 and was forced to leave there after a messy incident that led to a highly publicized lawsuit. Dr. Shettles continued his research at Glifford Memorial Hospital in Randolph, Vt. He remained active in research works until 2000, when he retired from Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas and moved to St. Petersburg, Florida where he died on February 6, 2003 at 93 years of age. Dr. Shettles was married to Priscilla Elinor Schmidt with whom he had kids, the union however ended in divorce. During his lifetime, Shettles was a diplomat of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the North American Section of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the Pan American Medical Association.

Today Landrum Brewer Shettles is regarded as a crucial contributor to the early stages of In vitro fertilization research in the United States as well as a prolific author on the subject of choosing a child’s sex before conception. From this work, Shettles published Ovum Humanum, a book containing detailed photographs of human eggs in development and these images are still used in some textbooks till date and in greatly enlarged form, hanging on the walls of the Museum of Natural History in New York, the Museum of Science in Boston and the Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is an assisted reproductive technology (ART) initially introduced by Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards in the 1970s to treat female infertility caused by damaged or blocked fallopian tubes. This major breakthrough in embryo research has provided large numbers of women the possibility of becoming pregnant, and subsequent advances have dramatically increased their chances. IVF is a laboratory procedure in which sperm and egg are fertilized outside the body; the term “in vitro” is Latin for “in glass.”

Dr. Shettles, who taught obstetrics and gynecology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, conducted some of the first experiments in fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm outside a woman’s body.

In the 1950’s, he was able to carry an externally fertilized egg into the sixth day of cell division, the point at which an egg normally attaches to the lining of the uterus.

While working at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, Shettles in 1951 recreated the famous Rock-Menkin experiments in which the first-ever egg fertilization outside of a human body was performed. In doing so, Shettles solidified the results published by John Rock and Miriam Menkin in 1944, which were met with a great deal of skepticism at the time. The recreation of this experiment led to the publication of Shettles’ books, Ovum Humanum in 1960. With this book, Shettles took the photographical and graphical depictions of human eggs to a new level providing detailed, color photos of these cells for the time in history.

Two years later in 1962, Shettles claimed that he had performed the first successful implantation of an in vitro fertilized egg into a woman, resulting in a pregnancy. This event, however, was not thoroughly documented and thus could never be substantiated. Years later, Shettles explained his decision not to publish, claiming that he was not interested in any of the publicity that would have come with the creation of the first test-tube baby and that he was also worried his experiments would not be approved by the human-experimentation committees of the time.

A decade after, in the early 1970s, Shettles co-authored two books on reproduction that would both become very popular. The first, From Conception to Birth: The Drama of Life’s Beginning, Shettles wrote with Columbia radiologist Roberts Rugh and another science writer of the time, Richard N. Einhorn. The second book, published in 1971, was entitled Your Baby’s Sex: Now You Can Choose, which he co-authored with David M. Rorvic. The latter of the two gained much more commercial popularity and is still published today. It describes Shettles’ method for increasing the odds of conceiving a child of a certain sex, which consisted of various tips to be followed during the act of intercourse. For example, in order to have a girl, the book recommends douching with vinegar prior to the attempt at conception as well as suggesting the woman refrain from having an orgasm.

In the 1970s, Dr. Shettles developed the technique now known as gamete intrafallopian transfer, or GIFT. GIFT is very similar to IVF, except that in IVF embryos that have been incubated are placed in the woman’s uterus; with GIFT, the egg and sperm are placed directly in the mother’s Fallopian tubes, where they would have met under normal conditions. Because fertilization takes place naturally, inside the mother’s body instead of in a laboratory, patients using GIFT do not face the dilemma of how to dispose of extra embryos faced by those using IVF.

In 1973, while working with William Sweeney, a colleague from New York Hospital, Shettles began a more serious, documented attempt at a successful in vitro fertilization with an infertility patient named Doris Del-Zio, this was the incident that led to his dismissal from the hospital. Sweeney was the original surgeon working with Doris Del-Zio as he tried to treat her for infertility. After a number of failed surgeries to unblock Doris’ fallopian tubes, it was finally decided that in vitro fertilization was her only hope for having a child. On 12 September 1973, Doris traveled to Sweeney’s office to have some of her eggs extracted, which he sent along with Del-Zio and her husband, John, in a taxi across town to Colombia Presbyterian to meet with Shettles. It was here that John Del-Zio provided a sperm sample, which Shettles took along with the egg cells up to a lab to be combined and incubated for four days. At this point Shettles, who was also disliked by the administrators at his hospital due to his odd work habits, began to receive a great deal of attention from his superiors. When the hospital authorities learned about this experiment Shettles’ supervisor, Raymond Vand Wiele ordered the test tube to be brought to his office where he removed the stopper, contaminating the sample and destroying the experiment. Stating that Shettles had no acknowledgment for the guidelines for human experiments and acted in an unsafe and unethical manner. He urged the couple to sue the management of the hospital claiming that the destruction of the fertilized egg caused them physical and emotional damage. The trial which which by chance, coincided with the birth of the “first tube baby” in England Louise Brown, they did and won the trial and were awarded $50,000 for damages.

Although Shettles’ dream of creating the world’s first baby from in vitro fertilization was ruined, his work in the field would not be forgotten. The book Pandora’s Baby: How the First Test Tube Babies Sparked the Reproductive Revolution describes how Dr. Shettles was almost responsible for the first test tube baby.

Dr. Shettles was not only interested in helping infertile couples conceive but he was also determined to develop a way for couples to select the sex of their child. In the past, a mother who is in desperate need of a male child and says to her doctor, “It better be a boy this time,” usually just have her weight measured and temperature taken because the doctor’s hands are usually tied on such issues as there is absolutely nothing he could possibly do to help her get what she wants. However now there seem to be a way of helping such women by referring her to the works of gynecologist Dr. Landrum B. Shettles who through his experiments has found a way of substituting choice for chance in the baby business.

In the 1960’s, Shettles became convinced after various experiments that the timing of conception within the menstrual cycle and the acidity or alkalinity of the female reproductive tract helped determine the sex of a baby.

Shettles developed a method to maximize the probability of having a baby of the sex of the parents’ choice. Using his “Shettles Method,” couples who wanted to have a male baby should time intercourse as close as possible to ovulation to allow the faster Y-bearing sperm to reach the egg first. Couples desiring a female should time intercourse to take place about three days prior to ovulation, when the pH of the vagina is more acidic and thus more hostile to the faster but less bulky Y-bearing sperm, and therefore favoring the bulkier X-bearing sperm on a small level.

The Shettles Method is a child conception idea that is reputed to help determine a baby’s sex. It was developed by Landrum B. Shettles in the 1960s and was publicized in the book How to Choose the Sex of Your Baby, coauthored by Shettles and David Rorvik. The book was first published in 1971 and has been in print in various editions ever since. By following the various methods outlined in the book, it is proposed that a couple can affect the probability of having a boy or a girl.

According to the theory, male (Y) sperm are faster but more fragile than female (X) sperm. Further, acidic environments harm Y sperm, according to the theory, making conception of a girl more likely. The Shettles method aims to exploit these two factors.

To have a boy, insemination should occur as close as possible to the moment of ovulation so that the faster, Y-sperm arrive first and achieve conception, according to the theory. When seeking a girl, the couple should have sex 2½ to 3 days before ovulation.

Shallow penetration coupled with the sperm deposited close to the entrance favors female conception because the area is more acidic, which inhibits the weaker Y sperm, according to the theory. To allow the Y sperm, which supposedly moves faster, to reach the egg first, use deeper penetration to deposit the sperm at the least acidic area near the uterus opening. Intercourse should occur from 5 am and continue every 2 hours during the ovulation period. Eggs are more likely to be fertilized before 7am known as “the peak period”.

For many years now, his book How to Choose the Sex of Your Baby has been highly recommended for couples trying to increase their chances of having a particular sex of baby. His book provides simple, homely methods and detailed procedures to follow in other to conceive a child of the specific gender of your choice. Shettles method continues to produce results and has remained unmatched by any other method. With dozens of testimonials, a proper application of Shettles method gives couples a 75 percent chance of having their desired result.

Dr. Shettles was strongly opposed to abortions as he believed that life begins at conception. In his book Rites of Life: The Scientific Evidence for Life Before Birth, Dr. Shettles described each stage in the development of the human fetus from conception to birth. He argued that abortion should be prohibited from the clear evidence that life begins at conception. His work with human conception, and the life of the fetus in the womb, are widely cited in anti-abortion texts. In his words;

“I oppose abortion. I do so, first, because I accept what is biologically manifest – that human life commences at the time of conception – and second, because I believe it is wrong to take innocent human life under any circumstances. My position is scientific, pragmatic and humanitarian.”

Shettles works were at that time, impeded by professional eccentricities and social ineptitude, but he is considered a pioneer of in vitro fertilization technology as well as a major contributor to fertilization and embryo research.

Despite falling short of his initial goal, Shettles is still remembered as an early pioneer of in vitro fertilization technology and the study of embryos in general. His book Ovum Humanum provided unprecedented views of the human egg cell that inspired and contributed to further research in the field of embryology and his other literary works remain pertinent to the study of embryos even today.

Regardless of the fact that his methods may seem unethical, one cannot deny the fact that Dr. Landrum B. Shettles accomplished some great feats that has benefited scientific research for many years and even up to this present day.