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Penn Gynecologist Collaborates with Her Sister to Explore the “Wild West” of Reproductive Medicine

Billy the Kid. Jesse James. Buffalo Bill. Wild Bill Hickok. We’ve all heard the names before: They’re the colorful and dangerous characters of America’s old “wild west” that have dominated U.S. cinema and television for decades. And that is where the connotations of entertainment end.

Today, whenever an emerging trend – usually something in technology or medicine – expands into uncharted territory, outpacing regulation, you’ll hear it being referred to as the “wild west.” (Think cyber-stalking or dietary and weight loss supplements.) The field of reproductive medicine and all it entails, especially in the United States, is another potential example.


The U.S. remains virtually the only developed nation in the world that has no national policy on assisted reproduction. Since the emergence of the field 40 years ago, the federal government has not funded, regulated, prohibited or approved any reproductive technologies or practices, including vitro fertilization, sperm, egg and embryo donation, gestational carriers and surrogates.

Wanda Ronner, MD, left, and her sister Margaret Marsh, PhD.

“Societal conflicts involving reproductive technology – often politically and religion-based – are so deep and divisive that as a nation, we’re unable to find common ground,” said Wanda Ronner, MD, professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Perelman School of Medicine, a gynecologist and medical student coordinator at Pennsylvania Hospital. “So it has been by default that we’ve allowed the market to determine access to reproductive services.”

Ronner and her sister Margaret Marsh, PhD, a distinguished professor of History at Rutgers University and fellow researcher and author, are collaborating once again to seek answers to how and why the current state of reproductive medicine in the U.S. developed and its effects on potential parents, egg and sperm donors, surrogates, researchers, health care providers, and society as a whole. Most important, Ronner and Marsh hope to devise possible solutions for change to both medical practice and policy.

Funded by a three-year Investigator Award in Health Policy Research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Ronner and Marsh are on their way to exploring the recent history of infertility, reproductive medicine reproductive and technology. “We’re both really excited to be working together again and hope our joint expertise in experiences from past collaborations will help us address the many looming issues surrounding infertility and reproductive medicine,” said Ronner.

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