Robert EdwardsTwo great Britons died this week. One, Margaret Thatcher, is well known, and her passing has been widely noted. The other, Robert Edwards, is a brilliant physiologist whose work lead to the first successful human conception, and subsequent birth, through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). His passing has been relatively unnoticed, and that is a shame.

NPR reports the basic facts of Edwards’s work:

His work led to the birth of the first [so-called] test tube baby, Louise Brown, in 1978, and millions of babies since. . . . IVF [is] . . . a way to fertilize eggs outside of a woman's body. It's used for women who can't have babies naturally for some reason. So, eggs are removed from the ovary and they're fertilized with sperm in the laboratory to create an embryo, which is then placed back into a woman's body to develop.

And what Edwards did back in the '60s is figure out how to create just the right conditions to do all this in a laboratory dish [and]. . . how to nurture these fragile eggs and very early embryos. Other scientists had done it with rabbits but after years and years of trying, Edwards figured out how to do it in humans.

IVF treatment has enabled more than five million couples to conceive and have babies—babies who, without IVF, would never have come into existence.

It is no coincidence that cultures willing to elect warriors for liberty are far and away the most scientifically advanced cultures on the planet. The freedom to develop and test controversial new technologies—without interference from religionists or mystics who oppose them—is essential to such progress.

In this regard, good politicians and good scientists go hand in hand: As long as and to the extent that societies elect rights-protecting politicians, such as Margaret Thatcher, brilliant scientists, such as Robert Edwards, will be free to enable and enhance human life.

Let us remember Thatcher and Edwards together, as symbols of civilized society.

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Image: University of Cambridge

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