“We are approaching a biotechnological breakthrough. Ectogenesis, the invention of a complete external womb, could completely change the nature of human reproduction.”
– Helen Sedgwick
Read an article recently that I was more than normally conflicted about, I was in awe as I read it, and I didn’t know whether to be intellectually fascinated or morally shocked. Either way, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, it seems every new scientific advance inspires both meanings of the word “awesome” (admiration and fear); admiration of our ability to discover or do something that might somehow supremely benefit humankind, fear that whatever it is could irreparably change life for the worse. Like everthing that happens in life, there’s an upside and a downside and, thus, my confliction.
Sedgwick should have said, “We have” (instead of “We are approaching”) a breakthrough, and, “will” (instead of “could”) change the nature of human reproduction, because the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has invented the “biobag”, the artificial womb.
They have grown in this invention lambs, from the gestational age equivalent to human fetuses of 22-24 weeks, culminating in live births, with the oldest lamb now a year old.
Not to be outdone, Cambridge University in England is working on actual human embyros. Using a mixture of nutrients, they’ve successfully grown one to the age of 13 days. It may well have fully gown into a fetus if they weren’t prohibited by the legal maximun of 14 days that an embryo can be kept in a lab.
You can read all about it at:
The article (written by the quoted author above) cites examples of benefits: “[I]t could save the lives of premature babies, help infertile couples, give gay and trans people new fertility options and enable older parents to have children. It could offer a safer alternative to traditional pregnancy and childbirth and provide a healthier environment for the foetus by eliminating the risks of drugs or alcohol [use by the mother] and providing an ideal balance of nutrients, temperature, movement and sound…”
It also cites examples of the dangers: “[Who] would have the power to decide how, when and for whose benefit it is used. It could be the state or private insurance companies trying to avoid the unpredictable costs of traditional childbirth. Or, it could become yet another advantage available only to the privileged, with traditional pregnancies becoming associated with poverty, or with a particular class or race. Would babies gestated externally have advantages over those born via the human body? Or, if artificial gestation turns out to be cheaper than ordinary pregnancy, could it become an economic necessity forced on some?” And, “Who decides which type of pregnancy is ‘best’ – women or men? Doctors? Religious leaders? Employers?” Consider : “…the possibility of pro-life activists welcoming this process as an alternative to abortion – with, in the worst case, women being forced to have their foetuses extracted and gestated outside their bodies.”
That’s a lot to think about. It could be a good thing. Or a veritable Pandora’s Box, not unlike the legal controversies and wrangling that have already occured over whether the mother or the father has legal rights to ownership of their frozen embyros in a divorce case, or the question over the rights/privileges of a surrogate mother’s “rent-a-womb” or the biological mother or father in adoptions?
Setting aside the moral and ethical problems involved, I personally think further research should not be allowed involving humans until all the dangerous legal issues quoted above are throughly assessed and debated and resolved first.
And, setting aside the sometimes unfortunate outcomes of conception and pregnancies, I have to ask…
What’s so bad about how we’ve always reproduced?