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Nobel Prize Winner Continues to Create Controversy
When I read that Robert Edwards, a former British Cambridge Professor, was given the 2010 Nobel Prize for Medicine I was thrilled. He received the award for his work in developing the technique for in vitro fertilization (IVF) while working with Patrick Steptoe, a British gynecologist and surgeon who died in 1988. Together they opened the first IVF clinic in 1980. Since then an estimated 4 million babies have been born through in vitro fertilization and thousands of fertility clinics have emerged around the world.
My Early Thoughts on IVF
I was 24 when Baby Louise Brown, the first “test tube baby,” was born on July 25, 1978. I remember thinking that it was “unnatural” to have a baby that way and wondering what medical abnormalities would arise as time passed. I was not alone in my thinking. Many argued that IVF was unethical on moral and religious grounds. They said it was medically unsound. Others argued that people should not be allowed to have a child if they were medically unable.
Today’s arguments have evolved with technology, and those on both sides remain passionate about their positions. What do we do with frozen embryos? Should stem cell research be allowed? When does life begin? Should a woman be allowed to become an octomom? How old is too old to become a parent?
How Thoughts Can Change
I never imagined that on July 25, 2000, I would become a parent to a healthy baby girl conceived through in vitro fertilization. That was the only way I could become a parent. It was our last attempt after two miscarriages. Since her birth, in my role as a clinical social worker, I have done workshops, volunteer work, individual and group counseling with people battling infertility. I authored numerous articles and an award-winning book, Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire, to reach others who are infertile. Some of my closest friends are people who had children through infertility treatment or adoption.
I was really struck by the more than 1,000 comments made at the end of the article announcing Mr. Edwards award. Comments including “hmmm giving a prize for adding 4 million people to an overpopulated planet” and “funny how people ‘led by the spirit of god’ think IVF is great and abortion is bad” reflected the current negative feelings of many who wrote. In fairness, there were cries of support for the Edwards prize.
It occurred to me what an enormous amount of change there has been in terms of the technological advancements in IVF treatment since the birth of Louise Brown. There seemed to be little change in the voices that negatively comment on it publicly.
There is no denying that my thinking on the topic of IVF has changed with the birth of my daughter and the knowledge and experience I have had over the last 32 years. I have learned about the enormous life crisis that occurs when you learn you are unable to conceive or carry a child to a healthy birth. It is like a death, only there is no person or body to mourn. It is the loss of your future dreams. Infertility can destroy lives and relationships. It is hard to imagine what my life would be like today without my daughter. I remember every day that I am one of the lucky ones thanks to Robert Edwards work and vision.
IVF from a Different Point of View
Some people who are infertile ultimately do decide not to adopt and choose to remain childfree. They go on to live rich and fulfilled lives.
I would simply ask those who condemn Edwards and others who build their families through IVF to consider this. What would your life be like if you didn’t have your children and could do nothing to change that?
Take a moment to think about it — what judgments would you make about those who are infertile with few or no treatment options. Be grateful it is a choice you do not have to make and try to extend compassion to those who do.
by Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, is the author of the award winning Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing). Iris has been a licensed clinical social worker for more than 30 years. Learn more at her website, www.infertilityrollercoaster.com.