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4 October 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:11am

Child Benefits

Honouring Dr. Robert G Edwards, pioneer of IVF treatment.

By Patrick Osgood

Today’s mediasphere (or whatever you call it) has been dominated by the chancellor’s proposed cuts to Child Benefit for higher earning families. Readers could be forgiven for absorbing a highly monetised view of children and child-rearing (e.g. Gingerbread, a charity, says it costs on average £200,000 to raise a child to adulthood).

It is then a fitting corollary that we have learned today that Dr. Robert G Edwards, an English pioneer of In Vitro Fertilisation treatment, will be awarded the 2010 Nobel prize for physiology or medicine. The goal of Edward’s work was to bring the joys (and travails!) of parenting to those otherwise unable to conceive, and whose for whom the urge to raise children trumped concerns of cost.

Edwards, an emeritus professor at Cambridge University, represents the best of British invention: a longtime researcher and persistent pursuant of progress, he and his team battled with opposition from a reactionary press, religious groups, and sceptical peers to bring the hope of parenthood to millions.

Edwards dealt with the ethical issues raised by his work with careful consideration and tact. Nevertheless he was forced to seek private funding after the Medical Research Council discontintued funding of his work in 1971.

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After fifteen years of postdoctoral research, he oversaw — with Dr Patrick Steptoe, who died in 1988 — the conception and birth of the first IVF baby, Louise Brown, in 1978. The Nobel committee has described this as “a milestone in the development of modern medicine.”

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Since then around four million babies have been born as a result of successful IVF treatment.

Edwards, 85, is currently in poor health, and it is not clear whether he will collect his award in person.

In helping to bring the hope of parenthood to millions, Edwards is a true pioneer in best tradition of British science, research and innovation. The announcement of his award today reminds us of the primacy of the bonds of child and parent, and the rewards reaped from investment in medical science, over the more humdrum business of politics, cuts and budgets.

Dr. Edwards, we salute you.