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The artificial womb draws closer

From the Times UK:

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.

Artificial wombs are not yet safe for human pregnancies. But if, as expected, the technology can one day be applied in human beings, scientific advantages may result.

A truly mixed bag: Good for preterm babies, bad for a whole host of other potentially unethical uses, not to speak of the experimentation required to get to a point of success.

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posted August 30, 2005 at 11:50 pm

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?

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T. Marzen

posted August 31, 2005 at 12:08 am

For one thing, it will make all unborn children potentially viable (“able to live outside the womb, albeit with artificial means”), thus rendering the viability criterion of Roe v. Wade substantially meaningless. It would also provide an alternative to abortion-as-feticide not only in general, but as a arguably morally permissible alternative for women who claim health/life/rape reasons for abortion. It would render the indirect killings of embryos involved in treating tubal pregnancies, diseased uteri, and as the result of maternal chemotherapy unnecessary and arguably immoral because avoidable.
In addition, it would provide an obligatory (when it becomes sufficiently “ordinary”) means of saving miscarried/spontaneously aborted children and, after transfer, greater access for fetal/embryonic surgery or genetic therapy for children discovered in utero with disabilities and genetic abnormalities. It would provide the ultimate “window on the womb” (far better than ultrasound) for prolife advocates to use to dissuade women from feticide. It would also provide a means to save the lives of children conceived in vitro who would otherwise be killed by being discarded and even embryos who fail to implant after normal reproduction because the uterus is unreceptive for whatever reason.
In other words, like all technology, it has the capacity to serve a “culture of life” or a “culture of death.” It will be up to us to decide which it will serve. The only alternative would be to reject it outright (at the price of perhaps countless lives) out of sentimental naturalism or Luddite paranoia.

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posted August 31, 2005 at 12:44 am

No doubt pro-abortion people will argue that the psychological burden of knowing your child lives provides the need for a nice, clean break. You don’t hear pro-aborts advocating adoption very often, do you?
Brave New World comes inexorably closer.

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posted August 31, 2005 at 7:58 am

So, what do the idiots like Orrin Hatch, who say “life doesn’t begin until implantation”, have to say?

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c matt

posted August 31, 2005 at 9:15 am

While it may solve the abortion problem (at least based upon current viability/its my body arguments), I have a sinking feeling it will raise a host of other ones – first and foremost, all these new lives deprived of their right to a mother and father. While I see this technology saving lives, I also see it doing nothing to solve the root cause (if not exacerbating it) – failure to take responsibility for the life you create.
It seems we will create (most likely, unintended) a huge new underclass – gamma and delta humans – Brave New World indeed.

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posted August 31, 2005 at 9:23 am

As things stand now, there is nothing in federal jurisprudence that would necessarily treat embryos developed fully in an artificial womb as legal persons. One would think that analogies would be drawn with birth, but given the fact that we can patent life forms in this country now and the aggressive (nay, imperialistic) way corporate America asserts strong property rights in all sorts of novel ways, I would not comfortably assume such analogies would prevail.

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posted August 31, 2005 at 12:27 pm

Given that artificial wombs will mean total reproductive parity for men, I would think offhand that feminists would hate them with a passion, since they remove a chief source of female power vis a vis males (if a man can clone his children in a tank, what does he need a woman for but sexual gratification? I forsee corporate leaders getting a new concubine for purely sexual purposes every few years and paying a nursing service to raise their cloned children who share no DNA with the bed-bunny – that way there is no legal basis for claiming parenthood and the man has absolute control over both the children, who are his and no one else’s in the eyes of the law and the concubine, who has no leverage over him excpet how well she performs). On the other hand, it may be that the feminists are so deluded by their nonsense that they won’t see this for the huge threat to womanhood that it is, since they are so hostile to a woman’s natural familial role anyway. In which case they will ignore the enemy that will kill them off for good; once women are no longer necessary, a shocking number of men will find them no longer worth dealing with at anything but the most shallow level (i.e. casual sex).

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Boniface McInnes

posted August 31, 2005 at 11:42 pm

But it will be an absolute boon for the corporations that currently “own” any number of embryos.
These aren’t “persons” under the law. I fail to see how bringing them further along, developmentally, will make them persons. Finally, science will provide a loophole to that silly 13th amendment, and we can go about eliminating low-paying jobs in earnest.
Slave labour, ain’t it grand?

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