04.10.131:48 PM ET

Fertility Pioneer Robert Edwards Dies

Colleague says Edwards "believed in his heart [developing IVF] was the right thing to do."

Robert Edwards, the Nobel doctor who was accused of playing God when he helped developed the now routine procedure of in vitro fertilization, died Wednesday. He was 87. In the 1970s, Edwards and Dr. Robert Steptoe helped create the IVF procedure in lab with a petrie dish by fertilizing an egg and then implanting it into a woman’s uterus. In 1978, the first “test tube baby,” Louise Brown, was born to John and Lesley Brown, who had tried unsuccessfully to have a child for nine years. Edwards and Steptoe were criticized as interfering with the natural order, with even a fellow graduate student saying he was “very unsure about what Bob was doing was appropriate, and we didn’t want to get too involved in it.” Brown’s birth was so controversial that she was delivered by Caesarian section in case of any complications, while the press camped out the hospital. With the public outcry, a failure would have resulted in the end of IVF—but Brown was born healthy. Edwards and Steptoe opened an IVF clinic in the following years, and in 2010—long after Steptoe’s death—Edwards was awarded the Nobel and a year later, knighted by Queen Elizabeth. By then, he suffered from dementia. His goal in creating IVF was not fame or fortune, but rather, one colleague said, Edwards “believed with all his heart it was the right thing to do.”