Robert G. Edwards might not be a household name, but the innovation he pioneered along with Patrick Steptoe certainly is. In vitro fertilization (IVF), the process whereby human eggs are fertilized outside of the body and the resulting embryos implanted in a woman's womb, led to the 1978 birth of Louise Brown—the world's first "test tube baby." To date, an estimated five million children worldwide have been born using this innovation. Edwards received the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this remarkable achievement.
Edwards’s passing earlier this year prompted an outpouring of praise. He has been widely described as a maverick researcher disinterested in personal recognition who simply wanted to give babies to those who couldn’t make them on their own. The New York Times quoted Edwards’s former collaborator, Barry Bavister, as saying “Dr. Edwards’s motivation—his passion, in fact—was not fame or fortune but rather helping infertile women.” Bavister continued, “He believed with all his heart that it was the right thing to do.”
But Edwards’s views on the technology he created and the uses to which it...