In the Guardian on Monday there was an obituary for the IVF pioneer Carl Wood, who has died aged 82. Although the first live birth from IVF technique occurred in the UK, it was Carl Wood and his team in Australia who produced the world’s first in-vitro fertilised human egg and implanted it back in a woman in 1973. Sadly the woman miscarried after three months but it was a huge medical breakthrough and paved the way for Steptoe and Edwards successful test-tube baby Louise Brown five years later in Britain. In 1983 the Australian team established the world’s first pregnancy from a frozen embryo. The resulting baby, Zoe, was born to a couple with a seven year history of infertility.
The techniques used in Zoe’s conception were described by the Royal College of General Practitioners in the UK as ‘extremely worrying’. The Royal College of Nursing also took the position that freezing of both eggs and sperm was unethical. Such was the hostile climate to the development of IVF that the Australian government contributed nothing to Wood’s research, which was funded by his work from the US Ford Foundation and his private practice.
Woods was apparently a lovely man, charming, good-humoured, unconventional and creative. He took an holistic approach to all his work, which extended into many other areas of gynaecology, and was loved by patients and highly regarded by colleagues.
It is hard to imagine in 2011 when IVF is a ubiquitous, if not always successful, way of helping create a family, that there was a time – well within my own lifetime – when these techniques were so controversial. Thank you Carl. Our grand-daughter, the result of an IVF frozen embryo cycle, is the wonderful proof that scientific endeavour can increase the sum of human happiness.