The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Rabbi Elliot Dorff is rector of the American Jewish University in California and chairs the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.This article first appeared in the Forward, a Jewish weekly published in New York, and is reprinted with their permission.
By Rabbi Elliot Dorff
This month, Robert Edwards, a professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for developing (along with Dr. Patrick Steptoe, who died in 1988), in vitro fertilization. The technique whereby eggs are removed from a woman, fertilized in a petri dish (hence the name “in vitro,” or “in a glass”), and then implanted into the womb, has enabled people to procreate who would otherwise not be able to have children. (Photo: Professor Robert Edwards, July 26, 2003)
Indeed, since Louise Brown, the first baby conceived through IVF, was born in 1978, some four million children have been conceived using this technique. Today between 1% and 2% of all babies born in the United States and other developed countries each year are conceived through IVF.
In vitro fertilization has had two ancillary benefits. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a technique developed about 10 years ago, enables couples to use IVF to avoid serious genetic diseases by extracting and testing one cell from each of a group of IVF embryos and then implanting only the ones without the disease. This avoids requiring the woman to carry a baby who might have a lethal or debilitating genetic disease for several months before testing and then possibly aborting the fetus.
Embryonic stem cell research is another boon produced by IVF. Using frozen embryos left over by couples who have used IVF to have children, scientists have justified hope of producing cures for some of our worst diseases — cancer, heart attacks, strokes, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries — and may even ultimately produce tissues and full organs for transplant.