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Artificial wombs: bold, controversial science coming soon

 

By Dick Pelletier

 

     Cutting-edge 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 within 10.
     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 baby.
     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 http://www.positivefuturist.com/archive.html

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