VATICAN CITY – Honouring one of the inventors of in vitro fertilization with the Nobel Prize for Medicine ignores the ethical consequences of opening "the wrong door" in the fight against infertility, said the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
British scientist Robert Edwards, a retired professor at the University of Cambridge, England, was named the Nobel winner Oct. 4 for the development of in vitro fertilization.
His work led to the birth in 1978 of Louise Brown, the first of the world's approximately four million "test-tube babies."
Msgr. Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said "without Edwards there wouldn't be a market for oocytes (immature egg cells), without Edwards there wouldn't be freezers full of embryos waiting to be transferred in utero or, more likely, to be used for research or to die abandoned and forgotten by everyone."
The monsignor's written statement came Oct. 4 after he spoke with the Italian news agency, ANSA, and said the Nobel Prize for Edwards was "completely out of place."
The extraction and trade of human eggs and the number of frozen embryos that end up being abandoned or left to die all represent "a problem for which the newly awarded Nobel winner is responsible," the monsignor told ANSA.
A few hours after the ANSA interview appeared, the Vatican issued a statement saying his comments, made in response to journalists' questions, represented Carrasco's personal opinion and did not represent the pontifical academy.
In the statement released later by the Vatican, Carrasco said Edwards "opened the wrong door from the moment in which he focused everything on in vitro fertilization."
The focus on in vitro also meant he implicitly permitted people to turn to a buyers-and-sellers market "that involves human beings," he said.
That emphasis also meant Edwards did not confront the pathological causes or epidemiological aspects of infertility, he said.
A more ethical and effective solution to the "serious problem" of infertility is waiting in the wings with methods that are also less expensive, he said.
The International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations also expressed its dismay about the Nobel Prize.
"Although IVF has brought happiness to the many couples who have conceived through this process, it has done so at an enormous cost. That cost is the undermining of the dignity of the human person," said the federation's president, Jose Simon Castellvi.
The IVF process has created and discarded millions of embryos that have been treated and used "as experimental animals destined for destruction," Castellvi said in a written declaration Oct. 5.
"This use has led to a culture where (embryos) are regarded as commodities, rather than the precious human individuals which they are," he wrote.
Meanwhile, Lucio Romano, president of the Italian association Science and Life, told Vatican Radio Oct. 4 that Edwards made a huge mark on modern science because he took techniques used for breeding livestock and applied them to human beings.
But "this absolutely does not represent progress for the human person," said Romano, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Frederick II University in Naples, Italy.
Awarding the Nobel to Edwards, he said, ignores all the ethical problems connected with IVF, in which human eggs are removed from a woman and fertilized in a laboratory.
The fertilized eggs are implanted in a woman's uterus with the hope the pregnancy will progress normally from that point. Usually, multiple eggs are fertilized at once with only a few being implanted.