April 21, 2024

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

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.


Michael Cook