A Noble Nobel for Medicine
By Bryan Caplan
Robert Edwards, IVF/”test-tube baby” pioneer, has won the Nobel Prize in Medicine. From the official press release:
As early as the 1950s, Edwards had the vision that IVF could be useful as a treatment for infertility. He worked systematically to realize his goal, discovered important principles for human fertilization, and succeeded in accomplishing fertilization of human egg cells in test tubes (or more precisely, cell culture dishes). His efforts were finally crowned by success on 25 July, 1978, when the world’s first “test tube baby” was born. During the following years, Edwards and his co-workers refined IVF technology and shared it with colleagues around the world.
Approximately four million individuals have so far been born following IVF. Many of them are now
adult and some have already become parents.
Four million lives created! Not quite Norman Borlaug numbers, but I sit in awe of Robert Edwards nonetheless. In my dream world, he’ll one day read my ode to assisted reproductive technology in Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. In case he’s reading, here’s my favorite part:
When Apple first announced the iPhone, the world was thrilled. My colleague Russ Roberts named it “the most beautiful toy yet,” and enthused, “Apple hits a home run. No, a grand slam. Actually, a five-run homer, the kind you’re not supposed to try to hit.” Two months after the iPhone’s release,
however, users were out for blood. Apple’s crime: Cutting the price by $200. This is how we normally greet progress – an exciting honeymoon, followed by constant ingratitude.
For reproductive progress, strangely, our reactions reverse: We skip the honeymoon, but gradually learn to love it. New advances initially horrify both public and pundits. The public shakes its head; pundits split hairs to prove that the latest technology is an unprecedented affront to human dignity. Governments often answer their repugnance with regulation and bans. Yet before long, entrepreneurs dig a bunch of loopholes, and a new market blossoms. A decade or two later, public and pundits forget they ever objected – yet consumers of the once “repugnant” services feel grateful every time their miracle children blow out the candles on another birthday cake.
Critics often belittle the users of new reproductive technology as narcissistic or selfish. But why is a person who turns to science any more selfish than someone who gets pregnant the old-fashioned way? Still, the critics accidentally make a useful point: Selfishly speaking,reproductive technology makes it easier to get the children we want. Kids who wouldn’t have been worth having in 1950 are often worth having today. Technological progress is another selfish reason to have more kids.
When I hail these benefits for parents, critics often accuse me of moral blindness. How can I neglect the welfare of the children created by artificial means? But I’m not “neglecting” children’s welfare. I just find it painfully obvious that being alive is good for them.