Steptoe, Patrick & Robert Edwards | A Matter of Life

  • First edition, first impression of this account of the development of in-vitro fertilisation by the two scientists responsible for the breakthrough. Presentation copy inscribed from author Patrick Steptoe to media presenter Bob Holness (1928-2012) on the front free endpaper, “With the compliments of Patrick Steptoe, March 1980”. Though Holness’s name does not appear in this copy, it was purchased as part of his library. Before fronting the gameshow Blockbusters Holness had an extensive career in radio, most notably as co-host of LBC’s AM Programme between 1975 and 1985, and many of his guests, like Steptoe, inscribed copies of their books for him. Copies of A Matter of Life signed or inscribed are particularly uncommon, especially in such lovely condition.

    At an early stage in his medical career, Patrick Steptoe (1913-1988) developed, “a special interest in female infertility. Diagnostic techniques, particularly in relation to pelvic pathology and endocrinology, were rudimentary, but laparoscopy and culdoscopy were being introduced at centres in Europe and North America. Steptoe visited these centres and established lasting friendships and collaboration with Raoul Palmer in Paris and Hans Frangenheim in Germany. He became the first gynaecologist to develop laparoscopy in Britain, lectured at the first international symposium in gynaecological laparoscopy in Palermo in 1964, and published the first English book on the subject, Laparoscopy in Gynaecology, in 1967. He described not only the potential for accurate diagnosis in relation to problems of infertility, pelvic infection and pain, ectopic pregnancy, and endometriosis, but also explored the therapeutic aspects of surgical laparoscopy. Within a decade this led to the incorporation of laparoscopy into everyday gynaecological practice.

    It was at a meeting at the Royal Society of Medicine in 1968 that Robert Edwards first approached Steptoe. A young geneticist and embryologist, Edwards had already done outstanding work on in vitro fertilization in mice, other mammals, and human beings. The collaboration between the two men lasted for twenty years until Steptoe's death. It resulted in the delivery on 25 July 1978 of Louise Brown, the first ‘test-tube’ baby born after laparoscopic oocyte recovery, in vitro fertilization, and transfer of the eight-cell embryo into the mother's uterus. Steptoe and Edwards reported the bare facts in a dramatic letter to The Lancet (12 August 1978) and gave a full account of their work at a historic scientific meeting at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists on 26 January 1979.

    Following Steptoe's retirement from the National Health Service in 1978, he and Edwards founded the Bourn Hall Clinic, near Cambridge, in 1980. Edwards was the first scientific director and Steptoe, as medical director, continued seeing patients until his death, while at the same time training juniors, lecturing worldwide, and collaborating in more than fifty scientific papers” (ODNB).

  • ...The Story of a Medical Breakthrough. London: Hutchinson, 1980.

    Octavo. Original red boards, titles to spine in silver. With the dust jacket. 8 pages of plates from black and white photographs. A fine copy in the jacket.