Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Controversial Legacy of Robert Edwards, the inventor of In Vitro Fertilization

Robert Edwards, the inventor of IVF, died two days after Margaret Thatcher. History may show that his impact was even greater than hers.

The creator of the first IVF baby, 2010 Nobel Laureate Robert Edwards, died last week. Obituaries and eulogies by colleagues, friends and admirers spoke of a passionate man with boundless energy, driven by a desire to bring happiness to infertile couples. Since he is directly responsible for the birth of some five million children since the first IVF baby in 1978, his legacy is worth pondering.

Like Margaret Thatcher, who was born in the same year and died two days before him, Edwards reshaped the world we live in. And as with Thatcher, we ought to ask whether it has been for the better. 

Edwards was born in 1925 in Yorkshire. After a slow start in his research career, he began working in human reproduction in the mid-1950s. He teamed up with Dr Patrick Steptoe, an expert in the new field of laparoscopy in 1968. By 1969 they had provided the first compelling evidence that fertilisation could take place outside the human body. Characteristically, this development was announced on Valentine’s Day.

At the time, the scientific establishment – to say nothing of the churches -- was strongly opposed. The reaction of the British Medical Association was so extreme that Edwards twice sued it for defamation. Eminent scientists described his work as immoral and criticised him as a self-publicist. James Watson, the Nobel laureate who discovered how DNA works, sneered at him. He lost government funding for his project.

Even the leading journal Nature, which backed his work, expressed some reservations. What was the point of bringing new children into an already over-populated world?

Read more at Mercator.Net.

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