Biologist Robert G. Edwards has won the Nobel Prize for his work on in vitro fertilization. Edwards and his late colleague, gynecologist Patrick Steptoe, helped an infertile woman give birth to the world's first "test tube baby" in July of 1978.
According to the New York Times, the initial controversy over IVF has pretty much died out:
Though in vitro fertilization is now widely accepted, the birth of the first test tube baby was greeted with intense concern that the moral order was subverted by unnatural intervention in the mysterious process of creating a human being. Dr. Edwards was well aware of the ethical issues raised by his research and took the lead in addressing them.
The objections gradually died away, except on the part of the Roman Catholic Church, as it became clear that the babies born by in vitro fertilization were healthy and that their parents were overjoyed to be able to start a family. Long-term follow-ups have confirmed the essential safety of the technique. [NYT]
The rest of the world is comfortable with IVF, as evidenced by today's Nobel Prize announcement. However, anti-choice extremists are still fighting that battle here in the United States.
It would be political suicide to challenge IVF directly. (Update: Anti-choicers in Colorado didn't get that memo.) For the most part, anti-choicers don't want to be seen denying infertile couples their only chance to have a biological family. Instead, they've chosen an more abstract target in the great battle between embryos and women: Embryonic stem cell research.
IVF treatments produce many more embryos than will ultimately become pregnancies. So, a lot of embryos are discarded or frozen indefinitely. Some are turned into embryonic stem cell lines.
All federally-funded research involving human embryonic stem cells ground to a court-ordered halt earlier this year while a federal judge weighed a lawsuit challenging this kind of funding. Research dollars are flowing again, thanks to a temporary reprieve from a higher court.
Ron Johnson, the GOP senate candidate in Wisconsin said last week that he opposes embryonic stem cell research. "If there's a program "that's morally objectionable to a high percentage of the American public, that's probably something we shouldn't spend money on," Johnson told the AP. Johnson's opponent, Sen. Russ Feingold, strongly supports the research.
[Photo credit: Shows the kind of HESC that were injected into the spine of a patient with ALS, a lethal motor neuron disease, via CNN Health.]