Earlier this week, British biologist Robert G. Edwards won the Nobel Prize in medicine for developing in vitro fertilization (IVF) technology. Edwards and his late research partner, Patrick Steptoe, pioneered the process by which the first so-called "test tube" baby was born in 1978. Since that time, it is estimated that four million babies worldwide have been born via IVF technology.
Much of the news coverage of Edwards's prize, tends to dismiss moral and ethical concerns as passé. In an NPR interview with bioethicist Jeffrey Kahn, host Robert Siegel began by asking, "[H]ave four million births through IVF trumped all the moral and ethical questions that were posed by the procedure?" It's an odd question, like asking whether Americans' continued reliance on fossil fuels trumps the moral questions raised by global warming. To his credit, Kahn responded by naming ethical concerns that remain, such as how scientists should handle millions of leftover frozen embryos.
Other news stories, however, fail to address ongoing ethical questions at all, portraying Edwards as a brave pioneer who fought back against uptight alarmists. A New York Times article, for example, states that the following:
Advances in human reproductive technology arouse people's deepest concerns and often go through a cycle, first of outrage and charges of playing God, then of acceptance. In vitro fertilization proved no exception. 'We know that I.V.F. was a great leap because Edwards and Steptoe were immediately attacked by an unlikely trinity—the press, the pope, and prominent Nobel laureates,' said the biochemist Joseph Goldstein in presenting the Lasker Award to Dr. Edwards in 2001.
The same article goes on to say that, "The objections [to IVF] ...1
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