There are the rights for the newspapers in Britain and abroad. There are the TV, radio and book rights. The whole thing is enormous - but first we have to produce a normal, healthy baby.

SO SPOKE THE BRITISH gynecologist Dr. Patrick Steptoe recently, sounding more like an agent hawking a prospective bestseller than the widely respected scientist he is. He was anticipating the imminent birth of what one London newspaper has dubbed the "Baby of the Century." And he was doing so in a way that underscored the seemingly conflicting sentiments to ward the child's birth by those most directly involved - Dr. Steptoe and the parents.

The baby will be a child whose conception Dr. Steptoe and a colleague achieved by joining the sperm and egg cells of a British husband and wife (for whom natural conception was impossible) in a laboratory dish. Dr. Steptoe then implanted the fertilized egg cell in the wife's womb by means of a process called embryo transfer. Recently, he reported that the woman soon will give birth - an event, if the birth is successful, that is likely to intensify the debate over how much man should manipulate the birth of human beings in the future.

The news of the coming birth in turn led to a media bidding war for exclusive "rights" to the pictures and story of this extraordinary occurrence. The two scientists and the parents hav signed a lucrative contract with the London Daily Mail, a tabloid. That's hardly what one would expect of scientists who've pursued a breakthrough for the last decade or of parents concerned about the child's future psychological health.

Still, although the Mail could never be mistaken for other, more sober newspapers and is light-years away from scientific journals, we really can't fault the doctors of the parents for taking the best financial offer they could get. The full story would have come out in the press anyway. If the financial gain for the child is greater this way, so much the better. It's not likely the public would soon lose interest in the first human being conceived outside the human body. So, regardless of how spectacular the Mail's stories and picture are, we doubt they'll add to whatever unique psychological burdens the child may bear as a result of being the world's first "test-tube baby."