By Hilary White

ROME, October 5, 2010 ( – A Vatican official and pro-life advocates have condemned the awarding of the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine to Dr. Robert Edwards, a pioneer of in vitro fertilization, whose work led to the birth of Louise Brown, the “first” IVF baby in 1978.

Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the recently appointed head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said, speaking in a personal capacity, that the award ignores the ethical questions raised by artificial methods of reproduction.

While recognizing the scientific significance of Edwards’s work, Carrasco said he would have voted for other scientists. The moral results of IVF make the choice of Edwards a cause of “perplexity,” he said. The decision to award the prize to Edwards is “completely out of order.”

Without Edwards’ work, he pointed out, there would be no market for selling ova, or “freezers full of embryos waiting to be transferred to a uterus, or more likely, to be used for investigation or to die forgotten and abandoned by everyone.”

“In the best of cases they are transferred into a uterus but most probably they will end up abandoned or dead, which is a problem for which the new Nobel prize winner is responsible.”

The Nobel medicine prize committee said in a media release that Professor Edwards’s work had brought “joy to infertile people all over the world.”

“His achievements have made it possible to treat infertility, a medical condition afflicting a large proportion of humanity, including more than 10% of all couples worldwide,” they said.

But Carrasco said that Edwards’s work had “opened the wrong door” in the treatment of infertility.

“The solution to this grave problem will come from a different direction, less costly and which is already advanced. It is necessary to have patience and have trust in our investigators and doctors.”

Edwards is most famous as the doctor whose work led to the birth of Louise Brown, long touted in the media as the world’s “first test-tube” or IVF baby, born in 1978. But it is rarely mentioned that Brown was not the first person created by artificial means. Brown, who is now a mother herself, by natural means, can more accurately be described as the first IVF baby to have been successfully implanted in her mother’s womb and brought to term. It has never been revealed how many of Brown’s siblings, or other embryos, were created and destroyed in the development of the procedure.

Studies have shown that the success rate for pregnancy with IVF is estimated by the best commercial clinics at about 15-25 percent, depending upon various factors such as the age of the woman. It is common for such facilities to create several embryos at a time, employing genetic selection techniques to choose the “best” embryos for implantation and freezing the “spares.” These techniques have been both criticized and praised by ethicists on both sides of the debate as a revival of eugenics.

While IVF is usually praised for changing the lives of infertile couples, little mention is made of the emotional toll on parents faced with no good option for deciding the fates of their “excess” children.

In a 2006 article by Washington Post writer Liza Mundy, San Francisco reproductive endocrinologist Robert Nachtigall conceded that virtually all customers found the decision tortuous. “They literally don’t know what the right, the good, the moral thing is,” he said. A 2007 survey found that patients are often eager for funeral rites for discarded embryonic children, according to a Boston Globe report.

Anthony Ozimic, director of communications for the UK’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children commented, “IVF is possible because of one simple fact: human life begins at fertilization/conception. But IVF is an abuse of this knowledge.”

Ozimic said, “IVF puts human embryos at a vast disadvantage – they are subject to testing and discrimination, freezing and storage, disability and death. Countless human embryos have perished in the development and practice of IVF.

“Since the birth of the first IVF child over thirty years ago, well over two million embryos have been discarded, or frozen, or selectively aborted, or miscarried or used in destructive experiments.”

Ozimic pointed out that techniques such as the Billings Ovulation Method and NaPro (Natural Procreative) Technology present “ethical, healthy, and far more successful alternatives to IVF.”