Vatican Aide Says Nobel Winner Opened ‘Important’ Human Chapter

Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe
British physiologist Robert Edwards and biologist Patrick Steptoe. Source: Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

The Vatican’s head of the Pontifical Academy for Life said yesterday that the winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, a pioneer of the test-tube baby, “inaugurated a new and important chapter in the field of human reproduction.”

Robert G. Edwards, a former University of Cambridge professor, helped develop in-vitro fertilization, a procedure condemned by Pope Benedict XVI. Bishop Ignazio Carrasco de Paula, the Vatican’s voice on bioethics, released an e-mailed statement that gave his personal views on the subject.

The choice of Edwards for the prize “isn’t completely out of place,” Carrasco de Paula said. Still, he faulted the scientist for creating a “market of donor eggs.”

The reaction to the Nobel winner contrasts with some of the Vatican’s more stringent criticism in the past. The Roman Catholic Church had condemned embryonic stem cell research and artificial fertilization, most definitively in a 2008 bioethics document released a month after Barack Obama was elected the U.S. president.

IVF violates “the sacred and inviolable character of every human life from its conception until its natural death,” according to the document, entitled “Dignitas Personae” or Latin for “The Dignity of a Person.”

‘Wrong Door’

Carrasco de Paula cited Edwards for “building a house but opening the wrong door.” The official said he wasn’t speaking in the name of Vatican.

Edwards and his research partner, Patrick Steptoe, created a procedure that led to the birth of the first so-called test-tube baby, Louise Brown, in 1978. Since then more than 4 million IVF babies have been born worldwide, and a multibillion-dollar market for infertility treatments has arisen.

“Without Edwards, there wouldn’t be freezers full of embryos waiting to be transferred in utero or, more likely, be used for research or to die, abandoned and forgotten by all,” Carrasco said.

The pope’s views have influenced law and medicine in Italy, which legalized some abortions in 1978.

The Vatican, the Roman Catholic seat situated within Rome, armed a successful fight against legalizing the RU-486 early stage abortion pill in Italy and used its clout to scuttle a 2005 referendum proposing to relax rules on surrogate motherhood and stem-cell research.

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