While much of the world’s attention has been focussed on one famous person who died this week, I’d like to reflect on another, Professor Sir Robert Edwards, who died two days ago. Edwards was the pioneer of in vitro fertilisation, of what, slightly inaccurately, came to be called “test tube babies.” It took immense dedication: ten years from the first breakthrough, a fertilised embryo created in the laboratory, to the first child born from the technique, Louise Brown in 1978.
And though towards the end of his life Edwards received the recognition of a Nobel Prize, he had to face a barrage of criticism at the time. People conjured up fears of Aldous Huxley’s brave new world and the manufacture of human beings as if they were machines. There were also some religious groups who saw him as trespassing into the sacred mystery of life itself, of “playing God.”
As Jews we saw things differently. We didn’t see it as the sin of playing God. To the contrary we saw it as responding to God’s invitation to become, in the ancient rabbinic phrase, “God’s partners in the work of creation” and in a particularly moving way.