bold, controversial science coming soon
By Dick Pelletier
research in the U.S. and Japan will soon launch a new era in human procreation:
a world in which embryos can be "brought to term” in artificial wombs,
eliminating traditional pregnancies.
Cornell University’s Dr. Hung Chiung Liu has engineered
endometrial tissues by prompting cells to grow in an artificial uterus. When Liu
introduced a mouse embryo into the lab-created uterine lining, "It successfully
implanted and grew healthy”, she said in a New Atlantis magazine interview. Liu
thinks her team could develop an animal womb in 5 years, and a human model
In another experiment, Tokyo researcher Yosinori
Kuwabara and colleagues kept goat fetuses growing for 10 days by connecting
umbilical cords to machines that pump in blood, oxygen and nutrients, and
dispose waste. While this womb is only a prototype, Kuwabara predicts that a
fully functioning artificial womb capable of gestating a human fetus could
evolve by 2010.
Experts believe artificial wombs will one day supplant
natural ones – conception will become clinical; birth, bloodless. Gestation
would be detached from motherhood, and the fetus would always be viable the
instant sperm and egg fused.
Artificial wombs are the kind of technological prospect
ethicists love to ponder. Philosopher Peter Singer claims "women will be helped,
rather than harmed, by a technology that makes it possible to have children
without being pregnant”. Feminist Shulamith Firestone agrees. "Once women break
free from the tyranny of their reproductive biology, they could achieve full
equality with men”.
Proponents believe artificial wombs will help women who
have suffered miscarriages and hysterectomies; and couples who cannot conceive
by themselves and do not wish to hire a surrogate, but still want their own
Concerns over losing emotional connection between
mother and newborn are unwarranted, says ethicist Roger Dworkin. Researchers
predict that computerized programming with parent emotions and personalities
will simulate human care and feelings 24/7 to insure perfect development of
children in artificial wombs.
However, North Carolina ethicist Rosemarie Tong
disagrees, arguing that this science could lead to viewing children as "things”.
The further we erode the mystery of how human life develops, she says, the more
appealing it becomes to improve technology and demand greater control.
In the near term, experts say, most women will probably
gestate their children the old-fashioned way, but career-minded females may
welcome a new concept that enables them to raise a family without enduring the
pregnancy that often weakens their job status.
Ultimately, this technology could enable anyone;
single, married, male, female, young, old, heterosexual or gay, to combine DNA
from their own body with a selected third party, and voila; the gene pool
marches on – and no morning sickness or other negative side-effects.
In an unusual twist, this revolutionary science offers
justification to pro-lifers in the abortion debates. Choosing an abortion to
protect a mother’s health would no longer be necessary. Artificial wombs could
bring all aborted embryos to term, thus saving countless lives.
Some see the artificial womb as a triumph of modern
science – others see it as the ultimate human folly. Only time will tell which
of these views are correct, as we get ready to enjoy this awe-inspiring and
incredible "magical future”.
This article appeared in various print media and blogs; comments always
welcome. See other published work by Dick at