One would tend to ask, how possible is it for a child to survive outside the womb, or could it ever be possible that a child be born out of a plastic in place of a woman’s womb?
Yes! And it’s called ectogenesis, a term coined by British scientist J.B.S. Haldane in 1924 which means – raising a foetus outside the human body in an artificial womb. He predicted that by 2074 only 30 percent of births would be human births. Science has grown much quicker than he realised, and his take is probably much too conservative.
Recently, Scientists sustained human embryos in a petri dish for 13 days, shattering the previous record of nine days.
The ectogenesis technology itself is highly complicated and would require an artificial uterus. An artificial uterus would have to be supplied by nutrients and oxygen needed to grow an organism and help it survive from some source to nurture a foetus, as well as dispose of waste material. There would likely be a need for an interface between such a supplier fulfilling this function of the placenta. Basically, it appears as an amniotic fluid-filled aquarium with a bunch of feeding tubes and monitoring cables attached to a live, developing organism. The cables monitor everything going on inside the tank.
No doubt, the birth of small human species without the need for the human body sounds insanely unbelievable and yet achievable. Would it be accepted in the society? Would people tend to be comfortable using it? Those who favour this method will reason simply that giving birth can be painful and laborious for most mothers. Furthermore, the advent of ectogenesis would mean females would no longer have to solely bear the responsibility of childbirth, or ponder the stressful questions often faced while carrying a child in one’s body for nine months as to what to eat, drink, do, go etc.
Natural birth is filled with perils, and ectogenesis could potentially offer a safe alternative. The theory is that every heartbeat, kick, and moment of a foetus’s life could be carefully monitored, from zygote to the moment the baby takes its first breath of air. Every nutrient the foetus gets would be measured, every movement it makes would be filmed, and every heartbeat would be analysed for proper timing.
Advantages of Ectogenesis
- Artificial womb may be safer than a ‘normal’ womb, i.e. the risks of diseases, accidents, drugs, alcohol, pollutants, inadequate nutrition, etc., would all be virtually eliminated
- The ability to bridge the gap between premature infants that are given a chance at life, and those that are not
- For women who have lost their womb to injury or cancer, ectogenesis might represent the next best thing to physiological pregnancy while simultaneously avoiding the need to engage a surrogate; this applies to women born without a womb including transgender women.
- Ectogenesis also provides for the needs of women who cannot safely be pregnant or whose lifestyles would not easily accommodate pregnancy.
- It would also provide a method of terminating an unwanted pregnancy that didn’t also bring about the death of the foetus for those women who are morally opposed to abortion on these grounds. Wanted pregnancies could also be transferred into artificial wombs if a medical condition arises in which standard treatment causes harm to the foetus (e.g. chemotherapy).
- It could reduce the number of still births, because foetuses would be more closely monitored and accessible, but critics claim it could redefine social roles.
- Artificial wombs could extend the age at which women give birth, and drugs could be more easily administered to the foetus if it became ill.
Disadvantages of Ectogenesis
- It would undermine women’s right to decide when/how to become mothers
- Risks of removing a foetus from womb
- Men taking over uniquely female function/experience
- Men gaining complete control over reproduction and women’s bodies
- Reduced women’s status to labourers, sex providers and breeders
- There are also concerns that children who develop in an artificial uterus may lack “some essential bond with their mothers that other children have.
- At some stage the foetus begins to be influenced by the environment in which it is growing, which means that the mother’s heartbeat, her actions, and the stimuli which reach the womb all affect how the foetus grows.
- May be used for no reason at all, as women are no longer forced to endure pregnancy (i.e. more money unnecessarily spent)
Regardless of what happens in the future, ectogenesis is destined to become one of the hottest topics of the trans-humanist future.
Research into ectogenesis technology has the potential to cause a dramatic shift in cultural assumptions regarding women’s role in reproduction, and if handled correctly, could promote more equitable distribution of the burdens and benefits of parenthood.
Ectogenesis might be a more favourable alternative for some, and need not diminish the rights of those who wish to avoid it.