Roundup: Vatican a Wet Blanket on Nobel Prize

Robin Marty

The developer of invitro fertilization wins a Nobel prize, and the Vatican becomes a total wet blanker.  Plus, Amendment 62 is likely to lose.

This week, Professor Robert Edwards has been issued a Nobel prize for his (and his partner, the deceased Dr. Patrick Steptoe) pioneering work in developing invitro fertilization over 30 years ago.

Via Washington Post:

Robert G. Edwards’s breakthrough development of in vitro fertilization, which led to the birth of the first “test-tube baby,” Louise Brown, in 1978, gave humanity the power to do what previously was considered the province of God: create and manipulate human life.

In the ensuing decades, the pioneering techniques that won the British biologist a Nobel Prize on Monday have played a part in controversial scientific advances such as cloning and the creation of human embryonic stem cells while redefining fundamental social roles such as what it means to be a parent or a family.

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“The impact on society has been profound,” said Lori B. Andrews of the Chicago-Kent College of Law, who studies reproductive technologies. “The creation of a child outside the body for the first time has had scientific and personal implications far, far beyond the 4 million children who have been born through in vitro fertilization.”

IVF has been crucial for human embryonic stem cell research because the cells are obtained from embryos left over at infertility clinics. At the same time, the techniques helped lay the groundwork for the 1996 cloning of Dolly the sheep, a procedure that could eventually be tried in humans.

“In exploring the fundamental mechanisms of how human reproduction actually works, Edwards unleashed a social, ethical and cultural tsunami that he could not have predicted and I don’t think anyone at the time could have anticipated,” said Arthur Caplan, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist. “It opened so many doors that I’m not sure we even fully appreciate it today.”

Of course, not everyone appreciates those advances in medicine, nor approve of the Nobel committee awarding it to the doctor.  Namely, the Vatican.

From TimesLive:

The Vatican press office meanwhile released a statement by the International Federation of Catholic Medic Association (FIAC) which described their “disappointment” after the announcement of the award on Monday.

The Vatican’s top medical ethics official, Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, already criticised the decision in comments on Monday that blamed Edwards for creating a market in embryos and failing to protect human life.

Despite the “happiness” IVF has brought “to many couples,” the FIAC association said it deplored “the use of human beings as animals for experimentation and then destruction.

“It has created a culture where they are seen as useful means to an end, rather than the precious individual humans that they are,” it added.

Few people are taking the Vatican’s poo-pooing on the prize to heart, however.  Tom Chivers of the Telegraph writes:

What is sad, though, is the response by a Vatican spokesman to Prof Edwards’ award. “I find the choice of Robert Edwards completely out of order”, says Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life. I can only assume the “out of order” is an odd translation – I doubt the Monsignor really talks like a drunk Phil Mitchell – but the sentiment is unmistakeable.

“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,” he told the Italian news agency Ansa. Without Prof Edwards, “there would not be a large number of freezers filled with embryos in the world”. Well, no. But there would be millions of heartbroken would-be mothers and fathers, and four million fewer babies born. He did praise the “new and important chapter in the field of human reproduction” that Prof Edwards had ushered in, but essentially, the Monsignor has pronounced this a mistake.

I don’t know if the mismatch between Church teaching on things like IVF and homosexuality, which are so at odds with most young people’s beliefs and experiences, is behind the collapse in religious belief. But I wouldn’t be surprised. Their position sets them directly against people having families and falling in love. That is unlikely to be a popular stance.

Ironically, there’s one country who is probably willing to cheer for Edwards’s Nobel Prize: Taiwan.  Their birth rate has dropped so badly that subsidizing IVF is one of the ways they are considering bringing it back up.

From AsiaOne News:

The Bureau of Health Promotion (BHP) under the Cabinet-level Department of Health is assessing the feasibility of subsidising in-vitro fertilization and artificial insemination, in a bid to boost the birth rate, which has been on the steady decline, the bureau’s director general Chiu Shu-ti said.

Chiu said that the subsidy program, once approved for infertile couples, is expected to help boost the number of newborns by at least 2,000 per year.

Chiu said that her bureau has worked out two draft subsidy programs for IVF and artificial insemination for review by the Population Policy Committee of the Ministry of the Interior.

One program calls for the government to grant each infertile couple an annual subsidy of NT$50,000 (S$2,115) for IVF treatment or artificial insemination, which will cost the national coffers around NT$500 million a year.

The other proposal requires the government to offer a subsidy of NT$150,000 per year, and will cost NT$2.2 billion.

Mini Roundup: Broadsheet thinks there’s a lot of comedy potential in the Colorado Fetal Personhood movement. Laughs are likely all there will be, as polling shows the amendment is very much likely to fail.  Again.  I guess we’ll see it again in 2012.

October 5, 2010

October 4, 2010

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