LONDON – A Vatican official has voiced his disapproval of the decision to award the Nobel Prize for Medicine to the pioneer of in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said it was "out of order" to award the prize to Professor Robert Edwards, whose work led to the first "test tube baby" in 1978.
"Without Edwards, there would be no market for human eggs; without Edwards there would not be freezers full of embryos waiting to be transferred to a uterus, or, more likely, used for research or left to die, abandoned and forgotten about by all," he said.
Edwards had been selected by a panel in Sweden that said his work had brought "joy" to infertile people all over the world.
News of the award was welcomed by his former colleagues at the University of Cambridge and by Dr. Luca Gianaroli, chairman of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, which Edwards founded.
"This is a proud day for ESHRE, and just reward for Bob whose pioneering work, often in the face of huge opposition, has brought fulfillment to so many families," she stated.
Professor Bill Harris, head of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, added: "We are absolutely delighted that the pioneering work on the basic cell biology of mammalian fertilization done by Bob Edwards when he was in our Department has been duly recognized by the Nobel Committee for the huge step forward in reproductive medicine that it has proved to be."
"This is a perfect example of how basic science can have enormous, beneficial impact on modern medicine," he said.
In vitro fertilization, which took Edwards over two decades to develop, involves fertilizing an egg outside the body and then planting it in a woman's womb to grow and develop.
Although the first successful human test-tube fertilization took place by 1970, research did not result in a successful pregnancy for ten years. It wasn't until 1978 that the work by Edwards and the late gynecologist Patrick Steptoe led to the birth of the world's first test tube baby, Louise Brown, in Oldham, Greater Manchester.
Since then, tens of thousands of live births have resulted from IVF though hundreds of thousands of embryos have been created.
The procedure is opposed by the Catholic Church, which argues that the creation of life is a marriage act that should not be subject to the involvement of a third party.
Anthony Ozimic, spokesman for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said the organization was opposed to the procedure because of the number of human embryos that end up being discarded or used in scientific experiments, as well as the possibility that IVF raises of destroying embryos that show signs of disability.
"Giving Professor Edwards a prize for promoting the abuse of human embryos by IVF is an affront to mankind, and especially to disabled people," he said.
Andrew Fergusson, a spokesman for the Christian Medical Fellowship, added: "Our 4,000 UK doctor members all recognize the pain of infertility, but there would be a range of views about the artificial reproductive technologies pioneered by Dr. Robert Edwards."
Fergusson said in most cases where infertile couples are treated, embryos are created but never implanted, and the consequent huge loss of life gets lost sight of in the excitement of the science and the understandable longing for a child.
"Science and medicine must always operate within ethical boundaries, and such fertility treatment remains controversial," he stated.
Notably, the most data from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority in 2007 revealed that of 2,137,924 embryos created in British clinics between 1991 and 2005, about 1.2 million were never used. And just four percent resulted in live births.
That year, 36,861 women had IVF treatment - an increase of 5.8 percent on the previous year (2006). From them, there were 11,091 successful births - or 13,672 babies when accounting for twins and triplets.
Christian Post Reporter Eric Young in San Francisco contributed to this article.