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Ectogenesis (using an artificial womb):

Part 1: Quotes. The Roe v. Wade decision & fetal
viability. Some possible impacts of ectogenesis.

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Quotations:

bullet "In pain you shall bring forth children." Genesis 3:16, Hebrew Scriptures.

bullet "Human beings used to be ... well, they used to be viviparous." Excerpt from Aldus Huxley's novel "Brave New World" (Viviparous means to give birth to live young, rather than lay eggs).

bullet "Ectogenesis is merely an artificial means to sustain life, and, by this definition, it is no different than life support.....And while ectogenesis may entail an unnatural delivery, so does a Caesarean section." Midhatg Farooqi, Texas A&M University. 1

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About ectogenesis, the Roe vs. Wade decision, and fetal viability:

Paula Mejia, writing for Newsweek, referred to novel "Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley:

"The term ectogenesis was coined by British scientist J.B.S. Haldane in 1924, a friend and inspiration of Huxley who predicted that live human births would make up less than 30 percent of all births by the year 2074." 2

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered one of its most famous and influential rulings: Roe v. Wade. 3 One component of their ruling declared that once a fetus is viable -- that is: "potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid." -- a state may restrict or ban abortions. About 80% of states in the U.S. have laws prohibiting the termination of pregnancies once the fetus is viable, unless the mothers physical health, mental healthy, or life is in danger. In addition various state and provincial medical associations throughout North America have their own restrictions on post-viability abortions.

Fetal viability is a bit of a moving target. It is a function of whatever equipment and medical procedures are available to support a prematurely born infant. At the time of the Roe v. Wade decision, the age of viability was generally acknowledged to start at about 28 weeks gestation. Thirty years later, at the turn of the century, viability is often reached at about 24 weeks gestation, at least in world-class medical facilities. 3 At this stage of pregnancy, with the best of care and equipment, a newborn has about a 40% to 70% chance to survive. The newborn will probably be disabled -- perhaps seriously. However, it may live.

Probably the first practical application of ectogenesis will be to save the lives of premature fetuses who are born too early in gestation to survive on their own with normal care.

From a logical point of view, there should be little opposition to this application of artificial wombs because it would give large numbers of very premature fetuses the chance to live. However, any topic involving to human sexuality, procreation, pregnancy, or a woman's right over her own body often results in an very emotional response. Ectogenesis represents a major departure from normal gestation, and is thus certain to generate objections.

Back in the late 19th century when anesthetics were first introduced to counter pain during childbirth, there were extensive objections by religious conservatives. Many felt that mothers must be punished by experiencing intense pain during labor. This was specified by God in Genesis 3:16, in the Hebrew Scriptures as shown above. Modern-day women must be punished because of the sin committed by Eve in the Garden of Eden. She ate the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is one instance out of many in the Bible of scapegoating: the transfer of guilt and punishment from the guilty to the innocent. The use of an artificial womb might bypass labor and the associated intense pain.

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Ectogenesis: impact on adults, fetuses, abortion, procreation...:

Ectogenesis involves an apparatus that generates an artificial environment -- external to the woman's womb -- where the fetus can develop until she or he is ready to breath air and live separate from its mother. These devices are commonly called "artificial wombs." Some have been built and successfully used with animal fetuses. They may be developed in the future to the point where a third -- or even second -- trimester human fetus could be transferred from its mother's uterus to an artificial womb. There, it could complete its growth inside this apparatus and be "born" at full term. If current technical limitations could be overcome, there appears to be no reason why an artificial womb cannot eventually be developed which could accept a recently fertilized pre-embryo, support it for the full nine months of gestation, and allow it to be removed when conditions are optimum for its birth.

This type of technology could produce massive social, cultural and medical changes in the entire area of abortion and pregnancy. If ectogenesis became practical for humans:

bullet A fetus who would otherwise be born very prematurely would not have to face death or a life of disability.

bullet

A woman who wanted to end her pregnancy could elect -- or be forced -- to have her embryo transferred to an artificial womb rather than having its life terminated by an abortion. As bioethicists Peter Singer and Deane Wills write:

"Freedom to choose what is to happen to one's body is one thing; freedom to insist on the death of a being that is capable of living outside of one's body is another." 4


bullet Women who can conceive, but who are not capable of carrying a pregnancy to term, could successfully procreate.

bullet Women who are infertile because of age might also be able to procreate.

bullet Because of the intense monitoring of the developing embryo and fetus that would be possible with ectogenesis, complications that would normally cause miscarriages and still births might be detected at an early stage and overcome.

bullet A woman who does not want to go through the discomforts of pregnancy, the dislocation pregnancy causes to her career, and/or the pain of delivery could theoretically have their embryo transferred to an artificial womb, and later return to the hospital to pick up her newborn.

bullet Adoption agencies could be flooded with newborns available for adoption. Their parental waiting lists could rapidly shrink to zero.

bullet Governments might have to either fund many orphanages or offer financial inducements to encourage couples to adopt "ectobabies." (our term).

bullet

On the political front, about 41 states ban pregnancy terminations after viability, unless the woman's health or life are at risk. An artificial womb might be eventually viewed as pushing viability back from 24 weeks to a few days. Sacha Zimmerman commented:

"If ectogenesis is achieved, will abortion become illegal in each of those states? Many pro-lifers will certainly be prepared to argue yes." 5


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bullet Pro-choice supporters might switch from advocating abortion access that would terminate unwanted procreation, to advocating free access to artificial wombs to complete pregnancies.

bullet Women who elected to end their pregnancy via ectogenesis might have to handle the emotional load of knowing that their fetus was later born and that their child is living somewhere in the world.

bullet A same-sex gay couple might be able to arrange to have a clone made of one of them, and to transfer the embryo to an artificial womb to be born nine months later. This would not be ethical with today's knowledge and technology because many cloned animals are born defective or develop serious defects during their lifetime. 6

bullet Artificial wombs would probably eliminate or drastically reduce the need for surrogate mothers for both opposite-sex and infertile same-sex couples who are unable to procreate by themselves.

bullet With artificial wombs, women would not need maternity leave late in pregnancy. Employers might be reluctant, for economic reasons, to grant leaves; they might pressure their employees to procreate via ectogenesis. 6

bullet Since the fetus would not be impacted by its mother's ingestion of alcohol or other drugs, health insurance companies might pressure some female addicts to use ectogenesis. 6

bullet

At least in the early years of the use of artificial wombs, physicians will not be certain that the apparatus would reliably produce healthy, normal newborns. Removing an embryo or fetus from a normal uterus and transferring it to an artificial womb with unpredictable results would present a very serious problem in medical ethics. Initial use may be restricted to situations:

  • When a woman has elected to have an abortion, or

  • Where a pre-embryo, embryo, or fetus is likely to die without an artificial womb.

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Midhat Farooqi, "A scientific compromise: Ectogenesis may satisfy a long debate," The Battalion, Texas A&M, 2003-SEP-30, at: http://www.thebatt.com/
  2. Paula Mejia, "Fetuses in Artificial Wombs: Medical Marvel or Misogynist Malpractice?" Newsweek, 2014-AUG-06, at: http://www.newsweek.com/
  3. "Prior to 24 weeks a fetus is not viable - Rebuttal," Evidence for God from Science, at: http://www.godandscience.org/
  4. Peter Singer & Deane Wells, "Making Babies: The New Science and Ethics of Conception," MacMillan Publishing, (1987). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  5. Sacha Zimmerman, "Fake uterus" at: http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/000867.html

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 Home page > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Facts & definitions > here

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Copyright © 2004 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Initial posting: 2004-APR
Latest update: 2014-AUG-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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