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Vatican official criticises Nobel Prize for IVF pioneer

11 October 2010
Appeared in BioNews 579

A Vatican official has criticised the decision to award British IVF pioneer Professor Robert Edwards the Nobel Prize in Medicine, saying the choice was 'very perplexing'.

Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Vatican's bio-ethics official, believes the award ignored the ethical issues Professor Edward's work has raised.

While the Vatican recognises developments in IVF have opened: 'a new and important chapter in the field of human reproduction', it also holds the procedure responsible for the destruction of embryos and for creating a 'market' in donor eggs.

'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', Monsignor Carrasco said.

While awarding the prize to Professor Edwards is 'not completely out of place', Monsignor Carrasco said it raised many questions. For example, the research didn't treat the underlying cause of infertility.

IVF is the source of 'current confusion around assisted procreation with incomprehensible situations like children born from grandmothers and mothers 'for hire'', he added.

The Vatican remains opposed to IVF as it involves separating conception from the 'conjugal act' - sexual intercourse between husband and wife - and can also result in embryo destruction. Church teaching considers human life to begin at conception and believes a fetus deserves equal respect and dignity to a living person.

Professor Edwards, formerly a Cambridge physiologist, and Dr Steptoe, a gynaecologist, created the technique of fertilising human eggs outside the body before implanting them in the womb. This later led to the first 'test-tube' baby, Louise Brown, being born in 1978. Their work was controversial at the time, with strong opposition to what was seen as 'playing God'.

The Nobel committee said, since then, about four million babies have been born through IVF. Professor Edwards' achievements have made it possible to treat infertility, a condition affecting over ten percent of couples worldwide.

Monsignor Carrasco said the solution to the problem of infertility lies elsewhere and called for patience in research. He also stressed his views were a personal opinion, not a Vatican statement.

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