IVF pioneer dies

IVF pioneer Professor Sir Robert Edwards has died aged 87.

The work of Professor Edwards alongside his colleague surgeon Patrick Steptoe led to the first baby born by IVF, Louise Joy Brown, at the time called the first “test-tube baby”.

The procedures they pioneered have now become commonplace. However, IVF is still a difficult process, and unfortunately still an expensive one.

It is easy to forget the enormous social impact of their work, and the strong opposition they encountered because of it. Indeed so strong was the religious and societal opposition to their work that Professor Edwards gave up his research for two entire years. He spent this precious time thinking about the ethical dilemmas and deciding whether to proceed or not. (He may also have been patiently waiting for society to catch-up with science – not unheard of then or now.)

Fortunately for us he decided to resume his work, the opposition continued, probably right up until Louise Brown was born in 1978. Once she was born the world began to marvel at what was possible.

The work of Edwards, Steptoe and others has enabled approximately 4 million children to be born through IVF treatment. Their work has also saved countless women (and their partners) from the emotional pain of infertility.

These were modest men; they would not say they created life, more that they gave it a hand.

Professor Edwards was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010 and knighted in 2011 – quite a long time to wait and possibly an indication of the lingering reservations of some.

All we can say is that none of the families that have benefitted from their work have any reservations. Nobody has to say they gave these people life, giving them hope is simply enough.

With the passing of these great scientific pioneers we can only hope that progress can be made on the other end of life, with greater investment and research into cancer, HIV and other diseases that continue to limit our lives.

We already have worthy successors to Edwards and Steptoe in all fields of scientific research. However, they need greater funding, both public and private, and the support of society in order to achieve what has always appeared just out of reach.

In a world where premature death and destruction still rule over us who better to support than those who help life start and then help extend it.