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Ectogenesis (the use of an artificial womb):

Part 2:
Cultural impacts of ectogenesis.
What would an artificial womb look like?
Research into an artificial womb.
Pessimism of the future of ectogenesis.
Possible Supreme Court reactions.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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Cultural impacts of ectogenesis:

Development of such a device would have profound cultural impacts -- probably more than can be conceived of at this time.  Dr Scott Gelfand of Oklahoma State University organized a major international conference in 2002 titled 'The End of Natural Motherhood?' He said:

"There are going to be real problems. Some feminists even say artificial wombs mean men could eliminate women from the planet and still perpetuate our species. That's a bit alarmist. Nevertheless, this subject clearly raises strong feelings." 1

Zoltan Istvan, a futurist, wrote:

"Of all the transhumanist technologies coming in the near future, one stands out that both fascinates and perplexes people. It's called ectogenesis: raising a fetus outside the human body in an artificial womb.

It has the possibility to change one of the most fundamental acts that most humans experience: the way people go about having children. It also has the possibility to change the way we view the female body and the field of reproductive rights." 2

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What would an artificial womb look like:

It would have a main chamber -- an aquarium -- filled with an artificial amnionic fluid which performs the functions of the uterus. It would presumably have transparent walls so that the development of the embryo/fetus could be directly observed.

It would contain provision to deliver oxygen, nutrients, hormones, etc. to the embryo/fetus.

It would have a device for filtering out waste from the amnionic fluid.

It would have monitoring equipment to check such things as the fetal weight, heart rate, etc. 3

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Development of artificial wombs:

There have been a number of ectogenesis programs. usually using animal fetuses:

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Dr. Helen Hung-Ching Liu, Director of Cornell University's Reproductive Endocrine Laboratory at the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility studied the beginning stages of pregnancy. In 2003, she grew a mouse embryo in an artificial womb almost to full term. 4 In 2011, her team removed cells from a woman's uterus. Using hormones and growth factors, they were able to grow the cells on:

"...scaffolds of biodegradable material which had been modeled into shapes mirroring the interior of the uterus."

Her team has placed "surplus" embryos obtained from fertility clinics onto this womb, The embryos attached themselves to the artificial uterus and grew. The experiment was terminated after six days. Because of existing U.S. in-vitro fertilization laws, such experiments cannot be continued after the embryos reach 14 days development. The Cornell University team has no indication how long a human embryo would continue to develop. She hopes to develop a complete artificial womb in the future. Research will probably have to be done in Britain or in some other country because existing federal laws in the U.S. would prohibit such research. Her goal is to help women who have difficulty initiating a pregnancy because of damage to their wombs.


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Dr. Thomas Schaffer of Temple University worked on the other end of pregnancy. He attempted to develop an artificial atmosphere which would save premature babies from death or disability. The atmosphere is a breathable liquid made of perfluorocarbons which contain more oxygen than air. He successfully evaluated the fluid on premature lamb fetuses who were not capable of breathing regular air. He said:

"We have [premature] babies that are six hundred grams [1.3 pounds] born on a toilet, brought to a NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit], and survive. Now we can take care of these children."

He lacked the funding to continue his study.


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Dr. Yoshinori Kuwabara of Juntendo University in Japan has developed a rectangular artificial womb which is made from acrylic plastic and filled with heated amniotic fluid. "The fetus lies submerged in the tank womb which replaces oxygen and cleans the fetus' blood with a dialysis machine connected to the umbilical cord..." 5 Working with goats, fetuses were transferred to the machine after three weeks of gestation. 6 That would be equivalent to transplanting a human fetus at the end of the first trimester. His goal is to help women who often miscarry. He estimated in 2003 that an artificial womb for humans could be available within five years, given sufficient funding levels. It didn't happen. However, by 2014, his team has "successfully gestated goat embryos." 7

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Pessimistic views about the feasibility or desirability of human ectogenesis:

At least two experts have indicated that the technical difficulties of creating an artificial womb may be insurmountable with current medical knowledge:

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Dr. Stanley Korenman, associate dean of ethics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and an obstetrician/gynecologist, said:

"By the second trimester, fetuses have essentially completed their embryological development. They have all of their organs. It's in the first 12 weeks when embryogenesis takes place, and from a purely technical point of view, I find it a very distant possibility that we will ever understand enough about that development to be able to control it. I'm not sure we even want to go there.....A large number of people, I think, will find this idea ethically unappealing. An artificial womb commodifies the outcome, the child. It interferes with the relationship between the mother and child and imprinting that is a part of pregnancy. There's an intrinsic feeling that it's the wrong thing to do."


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Dr. Randy Morris, an associate professor of reproductive endocrinology and a private practitioner, said:

"The uterus of a pregnant woman draws about 25 percent of the heart's output, every minute of the day. That's an enormous amount of blood flow that an artificial womb would have to duplicate. Beyond that, you'd have to know exactly how much oxygen to infuse within that blood, how much nutrients and what kinds, what sorts of hormones and when. I truly doubt we know enough about how to gestate a natural pregnancy, let alone put all of that into action in a laboratory setting." 8


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Dr. Randy Morris, an associate professor of reproductive endocrinology and a private practitioner, said:

"The uterus of a pregnant woman draws about 25 percent of the heart's output, every minute of the day. That's an enormous amount of blood flow that an artificial womb would have to duplicate. Beyond that, you'd have to know exactly how much oxygen to infuse within that blood, how much nutrients and what kinds, what sorts of hormones and when. I truly doubt we know enough about how to gestate a natural pregnancy, let alone put all of that into action in a laboratory setting." 8

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How would the U.S. Supreme Court react?

Matt Butler Chessen, webmaster of mattlesnake.com speculates:

"How the Supreme Court would decide on the implantation scenario is totally unpredictable and could depend on the political leanings of the Court at the time a decision is handed down. Some scholars argue that the Court would split abortion law into two categories, one for implanted fetuses, which would be protected completely, and one for normal pregnancies, which would be subject to unchanged Roe style pre- and post-viability determinations.

Others believe that the Court, especially a conservatively minded one, would interpret successful implantation as evidence that viability exists at conception. In such a situation, traditional mothers would have no right to an abortion, even though their fetus could not be transplanted to an artificial womb.

Still another more radical view envisions the Supreme Court developing an entirely new treatment for abortion law not predicated on Roe v. Wade. An activist court might follow the suggestion of the plurality in Casey and determine that the right to an abortion is so fundamental to economic and social developments that it must be preserved. But this would require a remarkable deviation from the Constitutional framework of viability that the Court has already committed itself to." 9

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This topic continues 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. Robin McKie, "Men redundant? Now we don't need women either. Scientists have developed an artificial womb that allows embryos to grow outside the body," The Observer (UK), 2002-FEB-10, at: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/
  2. Zoltan Istvan, "Artificial Wombs Are Coming, but the Controversy Is Already Here," Motherboard, 2014-AUG-04, at: http://motherboard.vice.com/
  3. Victoria Woollaston, "Would YOU grow your child in an artificial womb OUTSIDE of a human body? Ectogenesis could be widely used in 30 years," Daily Mail, 2014-AUG-14, at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/
  4. Paula Mejia, "Fetuses in Artificial Wombs: Medical Marvel or Misogynist Malpractice?" Newsweek, 2014-AUG-06, at: http://www.newsweek.com/
  5. "Japanese scientist develops artificial womb," Reuters, (undated), at: http://www.w-cpc.org/
  6. "Weeks of gestation" are measured from the date of the last menstruation. 24 weeks gestation are actually about 22 weeks after fertilization.
  7. Zoltan Istvan, "Artificial Wombs Are Coming, but the Controversy Is Already Here," Motherboard, 2014-AUG-04, at: http://motherboard.vice.com/
  8. Scott LaFee, "Spare womb: Will artificial wombs mean the end of pregnancy?," Union-Tribune, 2004-FEB-25, at: http://www.signonsandiego.com/
  9. Matt Chessen, "Artificial wombs could outlaw abortion (draft)," at: http://www.mattlesnake.com/
  10. Midhat Farooqi, "A scientific compromise: Ectogenesis may satisfy a long debate," The Battalion, Texas A&M, 2003-SEP-30, at: http://www.thebatt.com/

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Copyright © 2004 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2014-AUG
Latest update: 2014-SEP-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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