My hero passed away this week. A man beloved my millions around the world; a humanitarian first, scientist second, and pioneer of the procedure that gave countless couples hope of creating their own family: IVF.
Its thanks largely to Robert Edwards that the once-thought-of inevitable state of infertility for so many couples has been banished. He developed human in vitro fertilization (IVF) therapy, and those 10 per cent of all couples worldwide who suffer unwanted childlessness are given the means to bring to this world babes of their flesh and blood.
The world’s 5-millionth IVF baby was born in 2012 and it was Edward’s drive to banish the desperation of so many couples who wanted children of their own that brought him to that moment when in 1968 he realized – peering down into the microscope – that he has created the first fertilized human embryo.
A very special girl was born in 25th July 1978. Louise Brown made medical history that day. Her birth showed that IVF was safe, producing perfectly normal, bouncing babies. However Edwards and his colleague Patrick Steptoe, a gynaecologist with whom IVF was developed, faced heavy attack from various institutions.
You see, initially IVF was intensely controversial. To think, the Medical Research Council back in 1970 rejected Edward’s request for research funds to establish a fertility clinic because “infertility should not be treated because the world was overpopulated.”
Objections dropped away immediately of course, however and incredulously, the Catholic Church has maintained its opposition to IVF and is now the only institution opposed to it.
In 1980 Edwards and Steptoe founded the Bourn Hall Clinic, Cambridge: the world’s first IVF clinic. Clinics have spawned around the world.
Ovulation is a naturally occurring state and the desire to have children is a similarly natural instinct. But that instinct cannot always be fulfilled. Causes of unwanted childlessness are numerous but so are the means of treating them.
I praise and give thanks, on behalf of couple worldwide, for the foresight, determination and tenacity of Professor Sir Robert Edwards, without whom the joys of parenthood may not be felt by so many.