Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Artificial Wombs and 'Choice'

Amy Welborn linked to an article from the Times (of London) about artificial womb technology:

ARTIFICIAL wombs, to bring a foetus of a human being to full term outside a woman’s body, could become a reality within 20 years, scientists have predicted.

This could present great advantages in the case of very premature babies, which could be nurtured to full pregnancy term in artificial wombs, thereby reducing the risk of long-term developmental problems.

Such technology might also appeal to those who cannot have children naturally, such as women with a damaged uterus or no uterus at all, or to gay couples. The need for surrogate mothers could disappear....

In 2002 Hung-Ching Liu, at Cornell University, in the United States, announced that her team had successfully grown a sample of cells from the lining of a human uterus and had used tissue engineering technologies to shape them like a womb.

When a fertilised human egg was introduced into the womb, it implanted into the uterus wall as it would in a natural pregnancy. The experiment was ceased at six days’ gestation, because of legal limits on human embryo experimentation.

Japanese scientists brought goat foetuses to full term using so-called “uterine tanks” after removing them mid-pregancy from their mother’s womb.

In further womb research by Dr Liu’s team, mouse embryos were grown nearly to term in artificial wombs but, as in the Japanese experiments, the newborn animals did not survive....

But Richard Ashcroft, reader in medical ethics at Imperial College London, fears a “foetal rescue act” to force drug or alcohol-addicted mothers to have their foetuses surgically removed. “I couldn’t think of anything worse,” he said.

It is also feared that scientists involved in cloning could continue their experiments without the need for surrogate mothers.

There is a danger too that some women who want babies but cannot face pregnancy or childbirth could take advantage of the artificial wombs — one step beyond being “too posh to push”. If they see their babies growing in a tank, would they bond with their newborns, or view them as commodities? Dr Ashcroft said: “Is creating children with artificial wombs having children at all, or is it a kind of manufacturing of children? It is deeply dangerous.”

The issue will add fresh fuel to the abortion debate.

This brings up some interesting issues. Excuse the egoism of repeating comments I already made on in Amy's combox.

Maybe it's the old SF fan in me, but I've always wondered: If some day artificial womb technology was routine and the government or group of prolife foundations were willing to put up the money to cover all costs, would "pro-choice" groups we willing to turn in the right to abort for a right to have an "unwanted preganancy" removed to an artificial womb and put up for adoption? Essentially all of pro-choice theory is built around the idea that even if the fetus is human the mother's right to control her body trumps the fetus' right to life. However, if the fetus could be removed without killing it, would abortion rights groups be willing to give up their right to kill in return for a right to evict, or would they still demand their pound of flesh?

Don't get me wrong, there are alot of really messy ethical issues that would come up if artificial wombs become common. Nor would "rescuing" babies that would otherwise be aborted be a societally simple thing to do. (Adoption is messy as it is these days, these adoptions would be messier still. The only way towards sanity I could imagine is if legislation were passed that if a child is given up for adoption before birth all records of the parent are permanently erased and the child is treated as the biological offspring of the adopting partents.)

Interesting, if disturbing, stuff...

3 comments:

Rose said...

My inner SF fan is also interested in the idea. (*Almost* as much as in the issues of telepath pregnancy...)

The problem with such legislation is that you would inevitably have mothers who had their children operated out, then changed their minds before the children were decanted and wanted them back. I suppose you could immediately delete all records upon completion of the operation, and then shuffle the child in with a bunch of others so it couldn't be found--but then you'd just have people demanding DNA tests. (And I expect you'd also have men descending upon various facilities and asking for blanket DNA tests of all babies because they suspected that they had a child in there whom the mother hadn't told them about.)

Though one plus is that such technology would solve the argument over whether or not it's okay to "adopt" and bring to term embryos left over from someone else's IVF...

Rose said...

...And about the pro-choice thing: they would probably still be having issues over the expense of the operation (could be solved with federal funding) and any risks involved with the procedure (depends on how safe/invasive the removal turned out to be). Also, if you can't take the baby out till mid-pregnancy, they would be bringing up the issue of women who want to abort so that no one will know about the pregnancy. AND you would have the whole "I couldn't ever give my baby to strangers!" thing that gets raised when people suggest adoption.

So I don't think it would *solve* the problem, though it might help. Also, depending on how early the operation could be performed, it might help change people's attitudes--if the fetus is *separate* and *alive* and receiving medical care at the end of the third month, it would be harder to view it as non-human. Sort of live fetal surgery has changed some people's views on the issue.

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