Earlier this week the Nobel Prize Committee announced that Robert Edwards had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in recognition of the groundbreaking work on IVF that led to the birth of Louise Brown in 1978. It is hard to remember a time when IVF was not part of our fertility treatment options and yet just 3 decades ago IVF was more science fiction than science fact.
Drs. Steptoe and Edwards ushered in a new era in reproductive medicine with their success in 1978. But public opinion concerning IVF was hardly united in this seemingly "Brave New World" approach to reproduction. Time magazine had IVF as its cover story during the summer of 1978. The commentary below is from that article and I know that our current patients would find it hard to imagine the way in which all of us held our collective breaths as the birth of Louise Brown was announced.
"Some commentators heralded the coming birth as a miracle of modern medicine, comparable to the first kidney and heart transplants. Theologians—and more than a few prominent scientists—sounded warnings about its disturbing moral, ethical and social implications. Others, made wary by the recent cloning hoax, remained unconvinced that the child about to be born was indeed the world's first baby conceived in a test tube.....Yet on the eve of what may well be the most awaited birth in perhaps 2,000 years, there are also still many unanswered questions. For the Brown family, it is whether their test-tube child is healthy and can ever hope to have anything resembling a normal life. For the doctors, it is whether they have pushed medicine to a new frontier or set it dramatically back by creating a medical disaster. For the world at large, it is whether doctors should be free to continue such daring exploits or whether new restraints should be posted to keep them from poaching on nature's domain. There is a very large gathering in the waiting room for Baby Brown."
As we know, the story had a happy ending...not only for the Brown family (who had a 2nd daughter by IVF and now have grandchildren from both Louise and her sister [no IVF needed for that generation]) but also for the millions of couples that have used IVF to have their families. Well done, Dr. Edwards and congratulations on a Nobel Prize recognizing the debt that is owed to you and the late Dr. Steptoe for taking those first careful steps into IVF.