Nobel-winning IVF Pioneer Has Little Love for His No. 1 Consumer - Israel

Robert Edwards served with British forces in mandate Palestine, where five comrades were executed by the Jewish Etzel group.

Despite his unpleasant memories and unfavorable view of the Zionist homeland, few countries have benefited more than Israel from the revolutionary method of reproduction introduced by British scientist Robert Edwards.

Robert Edwards File photo dated 19/05/2005 AP Photo / Matt Dunham
AP Photo / Matt Dunham

Yesterday, the Nobel Foundation recognized Edwards for his efforts, granting him the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Edwards has been long regarded as the man who pioneered in vitro fertilization. In 1978, Edwards, along with colleague Patrick Steptoe, engineered the birth of the first-ever test-tube baby, Louise Brown. Prior to Edwards' invention, 10 percent of all couples worldwide suffered from infertility.

Born in 1925, Edwards developed the IVF method as part of research he began at the National Institute for Medical Research near London in 1958. He then went on to found the Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge, a leading center for infertility treatment.

The advent of IVF paved the way for groundbreaking new treatments to help infertile couples. IVF treatment is particularly common in Israel, the only Western country that provides unlimited fertility treatments for a first and second child as part of its state-subsidized health care package.

It is estimated that four million people worldwide have been born by way of IVF.

In Israel, more than 30,000 children were conceived through IVF. A 2002 study commissioned by McMaster University in Canada that examined fertility treatments in 48 countries found that, on average, 289 rounds of treatment were administered per every million residents in the West annually. Israel topped the list, performing 1,657 fertility treatments per million residents, double the rate of the next country, Iceland (899 ).

According to Health Ministry statistics, 29,916 rounds of treatment were given to patients at 24 IVF clinics in 2008 alone. This is a 45-percent increase over the number of treatments administered in 2000.

Edwards' connection to Israel dates back to just after World War II, when he served with the British army in pre-state Mandatory Palestine.

"In 1946, he began his service at the Tzrifin army base [near present-day Rishon Letzion], where he belonged to a special unit," said Professor Joseph Shenkar, an associate of Edwards and formerly the director of obstetrics and gynecology at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem.

"During a retaliatory operation carried out by the Etzel underground, five officers from his unit were kidnapped and executed near Netanya. Since then, he has not expressed a fondness for the Zionist homeland, and his attitude toward Israel became chilly."