• U.S.

A Letter From The Publisher, Jul. 31, 1978

3 minute read

He was already in the boarding area at La Guardia Airport, his bags in hand, when the message came. No, he was not to fly off to Maine in pursuit of a story on astronomy. On this Monday morning he was to hurry back to the Time-Life Building and begin work on a fascinating and complex medical story. As sociate Editor Frederic Golden returned to his office and joined the other members of TIME’S medicine team: Senior Editor Leon Jaroff and Reporter-Researchers Adrianne Jucius and F. Sydnor Vanderschmidt. Together they began to sift through the evidence and collect data for this week’s cover story on the approaching birth of the world’s first test-tube baby.

Golden had a head start on the job. As an undergraduate at New York University, he had been a pre-med student until deciding that his interest in writing was so strong that his future was in journalism. Since joining TIME in 1967, Golden has written stories not only on medicine but science, environment and behavior as well. He feels this week’s cover was his most challenging. Says Golden: “It hits aw fully close to home. It deals with the very beginning of life, and it also raises all sorts of fears we wanted to address.”

The first obligation was to explain just what had happened — and what had not — but the story had other important dimensions. The serious moral questions raised by conception in a laboratory are considered in a separate story; a second analyzes the differences between conception of a baby outside the mother’s body and the technique of cloning.

Another aspect of the story presented quite a different journalistic problem: London’s Associated Newspapers had bought the exclusive rights to publicize the event from the parents, and the doctors maintained complete secrecy as well. Under the direction of London Bureau Chief Bonnie Angelo, TIME’S correspondents nonetheless managed to turn up firm facts on the sequestered Brown family and Drs. Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards.

Correspondent Art White covered the Oldham hospital, where the birth will take place, and observed a kind of press corps Keystone Kops comedy in which “Newsmen frantically fertilized and reimplanted in their own papers the daily crop of rumors.”

White did get through to the Steptoe home, but the cloistered doctor declined to be interviewed. Not one to be unkind, his wife reported that the doctor was, indeed, a TIME reader. Meanwhile, fortunately, the search for information on both sides of the Atlantic had turned up the most important facts on one of the most important medical stories in years.

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