Bob Edwards and his Nobel gong


Hi there,

This always happens. Go away on a holiday and the biggest story of the year breaks in your absence. Oh well.

This time it was the Nobel Prize awarded to Robert G. Edwards for developing in vitro fertilization. This was greeted around the world with great applause as an estimated 4 million new lives have emerged in the world thanks to this technique.

But I listened in astonishment to a representative of the committee who selected Professor Edwards as he blandly declared that the ethical issues surrounding IVF itself were “resolved” decades ago. I am not quite sure what “resolved” means. Is there another field of medicine which regularly gives rise to such knotty ethical issues, ranging from the exploitation of impoverished Indian women as surrogate mothers to the thousands of children of anonymous sperm donors who will never know their fathers?

In a sense IVF is a touchstone of contemporary bioethics. Accepting its complete legitimacy means embracing the project of human enhancement for which Professor Edwards was an enthusiastic midwife. In the wake of IVF come genetic engineering, cloning (possibly), surrogacy, designer babies… I, for one, felt disappointed that the Nobel committee’s ethical sensitivities were so dull.  

I know that this is a controversial stand. Tell us what you think.

Cheers,

Michael Cook
Editor




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