Pioneering embryologist Dr John Peek: 40 years since NZ's first 'test-tube' baby

From King's Birthday Morning with Paddy, 8:16 am on 3 June 2024

This month marks 40 years since New Zealand's first 'test-tube' baby was born.

The birth of Amelia Bell in June 1984 - only six years after the world's first ever baby conceived outside the womb - was a medical breakthrough in the country's fertility treatment. However, the history-making event was kept under the radar, with the technology and its pioneering practitioners facing intense public backlash.

Four decades later, there are close to 35,000 babies conceived via in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) in Aotearoa. As the treatment has become more mainstream, so too have difficult conversations around infertility.

This was not the case for most aspiring mothers in the 80s. Jocelyn Goodman was one of the first mothers to undergo the treatment, which was conducted in secrecy, at the National Women's Hospital by doctors John Peek, Richard Fisher, and Freddie Graham - all three of them trailblazers in IVF.

Today Dr Peek, an embryologist, becomes a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to fertility treatment and reproductive health. He and Jocelyn Goodman speak to Paddy about the early days.

New Zealand's first IVF embryologist, Dr John Peek.

New Zealand's first IVF embryologist, Dr John Peek. Photo: Anthony Phelps