The term test-tube babies seems so 1980s. IVF — in vitro fertilization — is now the commonly used term. Less fearful, less sci-fi, less judgmental.  IVF is in the news again because Sir Robert Edwards, the pioneering British test tube baby-creating doctor died this past week. Robert George has a good piece in the Wall Street Journal about Edwards’ legacy and why pro-lifers should care about IVF. George writes:

For many of Edwards’s critics, his legacy is irredeemably darkened by the vast number of embryonic human beings destroyed in the development and practice of IVF, as well as by the million or more who today exist in a state of suspended animation—a kind of moral limbo—in cryopreservation units in IVF clinics. These are the “spare” embryos produced to maximize the odds that the IVF technicians will produce a successful pregnancy.

 George says that Edwards knew that the embryos he created were human beings, but that he didn’t care:

Edwards himself was in no doubt about the biological status of even the earliest embryo as a human being. In the book “A Matter of Life,” Edwards and his collaborator, Patrick Steptoe, describe the embryo as “a microscopic human being—one in its very earliest stages of development.”

What Edwards rejected was the sanctity-of-life ethic and the principle of the equality of human beings irrespective of stage of development or condition of dependency. Like the philosopher Peter Singer, Edwards distinguished those individuals—admittedly human—who in his view did not yet qualify for protection against manipulation and death-dealing practices like abortion and embryo-experimentation …

 In 1988, The Interim‘s Winifride Prestwich wrote about IVF on the 10th anniversary of the birth of Louise Brown, Edwards’ first creation. As Prestwich notes, from the beginning genetic manipulation, embryo experimentation, and in vitro fertilization went hand-in-hand. A quarter century ago, lawyers in England were calling for clarification on what to do with “spare embryos” and 25 years later, countries such as Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom are still grappling with the question. It would appear that the excessive number of embryos created (and “leftover”) is a feature, not a bug of IVF, because they are needed for scientific research; better they be used rather than “wasted” by being discarded or left in indefinite animated suspension. Of course, if there was no IVF, there would be no argument over leftover embryos.

We revisited the issue of IVF in 2003 on the 25th anniversary of Louise Brown’s birth and again three years ago when Edwards won the Nobel Prize in 2010.