4 Million Babies and a Nobel Prize

Last week, 85-year old obstretician Robert G. Edwards was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his breakthrough treatment of infertility commonly known as IVF (in-vitro fertilization).  Edwards’s idea was revolutionary and went against everything most people considered normal, natural and even moral: a man and a woman did not need to have sex to produce a baby. Edwards claimed he could ‘make’ the baby in the laboratory. He created embryos by putting the eggs of the woman and the sperm of the man in a petri-dish where the eggs fertilized, and then he would put the resulting embryo in the woman’s body. In 1978, Edwards proudly announced the birth of the first ‘test-tube’ baby: Louise Brown.


How far have we come in helping couples overcome fertility in the past three decades since Louise Brown? A long way. Over 4 million babies have been born using IVF, and by some estimates, approximately 3% of all live births in the developed world start with this procedure. The advances have been nothing short of spectacular. Take the example of male infertility. Male infertility is usually caused by inadequate sperm motility or poor ability of the sperm to move towards the egg. In a petri-dish, the problem is solved by an embryologist who physically injects the sperm in the egg using a process known as ICSI (intra cytoplasmic sperm injection). Another example is examining the genes of the embryo at conception using PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis), which couples with a history of debilitating illnesses in their family can use to detect unhealthy embryos before they are implanted in the body.

Genetic analysis of embryos is as controversial as IVF was when Dr. Edwards first proclaimed success in the procedure. Many conservative bioethicists fear that the ability to analyze and eventually engineer genes in embryos means we’ll begin not just creating them in the lab, but also designing them, choosing genes for intelligence, memory, and other enhancements parents believe will benefit their children in life. But the Catholic Church, conservative journalists and prominent scientists had the same reservations about IVF. Thirty-two years later, we awarded Edwards the Nobel Prize. If history is anything to go by, we can be certain that selecting enhancements for our children will one day be acceptable and completely normal. Not only is the science proceeding in that direction, but popular opinion tends to slowly but surely change to accept enhancements that prevent illnesses and improve people’s lives (although controls must always be put in place to prevent abuse).

Ayesha and Parag Khanna explore human-technology co-evolution and its implications for society, business and politics at The Hybrid Reality Institute.

Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.

To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.

Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

Keep reading Show less

Futuristic inventions and emerging technologies that will change the world

What do the inventions of the future look like?

(Photo Credit: Rick Guidice/NASA)
Technology & Innovation
  • Self-sustaining space colonies and unlimited fusion energy would bring humanity to a new point in our evolution.
  • Flying cars and robot butlers could be the next paradigm shift in our tech appetite for change.
  • Death and consensus reality might soon become obsolete.
Keep reading Show less

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
Keep reading Show less