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IVF pioneer Robert Edwards wins Nobel prize

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 05 October 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5533

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Genius of Nobel Laureate Robert Edwards goes beyond IVF

Genius of Nobel Laureate Robert Edwards goes beyond IVF

The very impressive account by Geoff Watts (5 Oct) of the work of
Nobel Laureate Robert Edwards mentions Professor Martin Johnson's
description of him as "a real visionary" who was "always ahead of his
time" on many issues including "the whole process of thinking ethically".
[1] It was this whole process of thinking ethically that brought me in
contact with this remarkable man for the first time some 37 years ago.


Professor Emeritus Robert Edwards who has just been awarded this
year's Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology is greatly to be
congratulated not only for what he has achieved but also for how he and
the late Dr Patrick Steptoe set about his "project". He was most wise to
collect a body of diverse opinion under one roof in Zurich, Switzerland,
with the overall supervision of the World Council of Churches to thrash
out various aspects of the "project". I arrived in Zurich from Accra,
Ghana, on Saturday 23rd June 1973 as one of about 30 invited who included
parliamentarians, geneticists, biological scientists, theologians,
physicians, reproductive physiologists, ethicists, international lawyers,
pathologists, and officials from the host institution The World Council of
Churches. For the 3-day Consultation which began on Monday 25th June we
all labelled ourselves except for 2 immaculately dressed gentlemen
(identities of whom later). The gathering was known as "Consultation on
Genetics and Quality of Life. Church and Society, Christian Medical
Commission, World Council of Churches, 1973". Three of us were black:
Professor Robert Hudson, Human Genetics, USA; Professor Alexander Boyo
(now deceased), Pathology & Genetics, Nigeria; and myself, Internal
Medicine/Tropical Medicine, and African Anthropogenetics, Ghana. All
participants presented Foundation papers (mine was entitled "Ethical
problems of genetic counselling" [2]). In my opinion 2 presentations were
the most impressive, one from a Swedish lady parliamentarian who described
what she saw happening just outside the walls of some hospitals in
Stockholm, and a white American international lawyer who defined the
possible legal aspects of in vitro fertilisation. When the Consultation
under the Chairmanship of Dr Robert Edwards finished its work, the World
Council of Churches published our deliberations and conclusions [3], but his interventions during discussions on subjects sometimes quite unrelated to IVF were so remarkable and quick that I called him "the spontaneous genius".


Not all participants were amicable to each other. The way Robert Edwards stepped in to diffuse explosive exchanges with remarkably soothing words left us all amazed. Sometimes there had not even been a split second for Chairman Robert Edwards to rehearse an acceptable intervention to calm turbulent waters. The spontaneity with which he snuffed out conflagration during debate marked him out in my mind as a genius.


Oh yes, and the two unlabelled participants who never said a word
during the official deliberations? I carefully schemed to sit between
them during one lunch period, and asked them pointedly but politely: "And
who are you two gentlemen? You have no labels". They smiled, and told me
they were from The World Bank. Well, well, I mused: Trust Robert Edwards
to think of everything, yes, Everything - World Council of Churches
...World Bank .... The man is a genius!

Conflict of interest: None declared

Felix I D Konotey-Ahulu MD FRCP(Lond) FRCP(Glasg) FGA FTWAS FAAS
Dr Kwegyir Aggrey Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics University of
Cape Coast, Ghana and Consultant Physician Genetic Counsellor in Sickle
Cell and Other Haemoglobinopathies, 10 Harley Street, London W1G 0PF

1 Watts Geoff. IVF pioneer Robert Edwards wins Nobel Prize. BMJ
2010; 341, c5533. Oct. 5

2 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Ethical problems of genetic counseling.
Ghana Med J 1973; 12(3): 317 Sep; -324. PMID: 11662060 [PubMed - indexed

3 World Council of Churches . Genetics and the Quality of Life:
Study Encounter Vol X, No 1 1974. Report of a Consultation. Church and
Society, Christian Medical Commission, World Council of Churches, Zurich,
June 1973, Switzerland.

Competing interests: No competing interests

14 October 2010
Felix ID Konotey-Ahulu
Kwegyir Aggrey Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics
Consultant Physician Genetic Counsellor in Sickle&Other Haemoglobinopathies 10 Harley St London W1G