As early as the 1950s, Edwards had the vision that IVF could be
useful as a treatment for infertility. He worked systematically to
realize his goal, discovered important principles for human
fertilization, and succeeded in accomplishing fertilization of human
egg cells in test tubes (or more precisely, cell culture dishes). His
efforts were finally crowned by success on 25 July, 1978, when the
world's first "test tube baby" was born. During the following years,
Edwards and his co-workers refined IVF technology and shared it with
colleagues around the world.
Approximately four million
individuals have so far been born following IVF. Many of them are now
adult and some have already become parents.
Four million lives created! Not quite Norman Borlaug numbers, but I sit in awe of Robert Edwards nonetheless. In my dream world, he'll one day read my ode to assisted reproductive technology in Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. In case he's reading, here's my favorite part:
When Apple first announced the iPhone, the world was thrilled.My colleague Russ Roberts named it "the most
beautiful toy yet," and enthused, "Apple hits a home run. No, a grand slam.
Actually, a five-run homer, the kind you're not supposed to try to hit."Two months after the iPhone's release,
however, users were out for blood.Apple's crime: Cutting the price by $200.This is how we normally greet progress - an
exciting honeymoon, followed by constant ingratitude.
For reproductive progress, strangely, our reactions reverse:
We skip the honeymoon, but gradually learn to love it.New advances initially horrify both public
and pundits.The public shakes its head;
pundits split hairs to prove that the latest technology is an unprecedented
affront to human dignity.Governments
often answer their repugnance with regulation and bans.Yet before long, entrepreneurs dig a bunch of
loopholes, and a new market blossoms.A
decade or two later, public and pundits forget they ever objected - yet
consumers of the once "repugnant" services feel grateful every time their
miracle children blow out the candles on another birthday cake.
Critics often belittle the users of new reproductive
technology as narcissistic or selfish.But why is a person who turns to science any more selfish than someone
who gets pregnant the old-fashioned way?Still, the critics accidentally make a useful point: Selfishly speaking,
reproductive technology makes it easier to get the children we want.Kids who wouldn't have been worth having in
1950 are often worth having today.Technological
progress is another selfish reason to have more kids.
I hail these benefits for parents, critics often accuse me of moral
blindness.How can I neglect the welfare
of the children created by artificial
means?But I'm not "neglecting" children's
welfare.I just find it painfully
obvious that being alive is good for them.