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IEET > Rights > Life > Access > Contributors > Dick Pelletier

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Artificial wombs: is a sexless reproduction society in our future?


Dick Pelletier
Dick Pelletier
Ethical Technology

Posted: Nov 13, 2012

Cutting-edge research around the world will soon launch a new era in human procreation – a world in which embryos can be ‘brought to term’ in artificial wombs, replacing traditional pregnancies.

In "Like a Virgin: How Science is Redefining the Rules of Sex," author and genetic scientists, Aarathi Prasad writes, "This might be the biological and social equalizer, a truly new way of thinking about sex."

Cornell University's Dr. Hung-Ching 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 this New Atlantis Magazine article. Scientists predict the research could produce an animal womb by 2020, and a human model by early 2030s.

In Japan, Juntendo University researcher Yosinori Kuwabara and his team kept goat fetuses growing for ten days. While this womb was only a prototype, Kuwabara predicts that a fully functioning artificial womb capable of gestating a human fetus will evolve in the near future.

However, ethicists voice concerns that this technology could endanger the very meaning of life. Mother-child relationships, the nature of female bodies, and being 'born', not 'made' all play a role in defining how most people around the world view this magical state of existence called life. Artificial wombs will enable both men and women to reproduce entirely alone, removing intercourse from the reproductive equation.

But proponents believe people will reason, "Why risk gestating the baby in a biological womb, when this new science can produce a child with our exact genetic makeup, perfect personality, and zero flaws."

"The womb is a dark and dangerous place, a hazardous environment," says University of Virginia Professor Joseph Fletcher. Fetuses are 100% dependent on their mom's health and sensible judgment. If the mother falls prey to accidents, disease, or inadequate nutrition, the embryo can become traumatized.

Although naysayers believe that this bold science makes us less human, most experts predict that artificial wombs will one day be accepted by mainstream society as more people recognize its many benefits. Babies would no longer be exposed to alcohol or illegal drugs by careless mothers, and the correct body temperature would always be maintained, with 100% of necessary nutrients provided.

Concerns over losing emotional bond between mother and newborn are unwarranted, say scientists. Artificial intelligence advances expected over the next two decades will enable doctors to reproduce exact parent emotions and personalities via vocal recordings, movement, and other sensations. The developing infant would be maintained in a safe secure environment, connected electronically to the mother 24/7.

In the near term though, experts predict most women will probably gestate their children the old-fashioned way; but career-minded females might welcome a concept that allows them to bear children and raise a family without becoming pregnant, a physical condition that often weakens their job status.

Ultimately, this technology would enable anyone – single, married, male, female, young, old, heterosexual or gay – to combine DNA from his or her own body with another person; and the gene pool marches on; a clean birth without pain or morning sickness.

As this science matures, people could freeze eggs and sperm in their teen years when they are most physically fit; then create children later when ready for a family. Artificial wombs may sound radical, but people already donate eggs and sperm to create life in a lab and bring it to term in a surrogate mother.

In an unusual twist, this technology offers justification to pro-lifers in the abortion debates. Choosing an abortion to protect a mother's health would not be necessary, as artificial wombs could bring all aborted embryos to term. Unwanted pregnancies would no longer mean a death sentence for the unborn.

As we move into the future, this procedure could become the preferred method of birthing; but today, many disagree. Some see artificial wombs as a triumph of modern science; others believe it's the ultimate folly. We ask again; is a sexless reproduction society in our future? Time will tell. Comments welcome.

References

http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2009-06/shark-factory
http://www.gazetamm.info/category/uncategorized/
http://behealthy.baystatebanner.com/issues/2009/0806/stories/closerlook080609005.html


Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.
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COMMENTS


There will be a lot of controversy about the “beta” version of this technology. Still, I expect that it will be introduced in due time. The social implications are huge for everything from gender equality to gay parenthood.





Yes, I believe this technology will transform humanity; it could give us a new way of envisioning life.





I think scientists are the disciples of Satan, they put up a pseudo-compassion front but only actually care about gaining their own power over others. These brazen intrusions into the natural course of nature are abominable. The effort to reproduce without male sperm and eradicate the male, homosexual reproduction, human cloning, and now these artificial wombs. It’s obvious humanity is no longer evolving, but devolving, as the pace of technology and cunning out run spiritual enlightenment. What a way to solve your own personality disorders, invent some demonic device that you control which you’ll unleash on the world with sadistic laughter. If there ever was God, we need him now, I’m sure however the Atheist scientist egotism will stand up in a air clawing rave to call down shame upon me. Humanity: your well is broken, you are no longer human. No true human being would attempt this sort of demonic perversion, people like you are of a different race entirely, one that is focused only on power and domination through force, a materialist soulless race of the dead who feed on destruction and perversion. Science I think your days are numbered, your accelerating curve of cunning will slow, as it does your destructiveness will catch up with you and you will fall into the pit of hell you dug for others. You think you can escape spiritual law with Transhumanism? Your fate will enforce it’s debts even in your cybernetic dulled consciousness of perversion. All you scientists who think you can cunningly surmount the order of the universe to your petty personal gains, I look forward to your downfall. No guise will be opaque enough to protect you.





@pacman7331, I would hope your religious beliefs will not stand in the way of your enjoying what promises to become a most “magical future.”





Can we overcome the Grim Reaper? Positive futurists say we can

Infectious disease, accidents, starvation, and violence have kept average life expectancy at 20-to-30 years throughout most of human history. However, the quest to live longer and enjoy good health is one of the most ancient and deep-rooted hopes ingrained in our species.

It underlies religious teachings of dreams of an afterlife and up to now, people have had no alternative but to accept death as an inevitable part of existence. Even Humanists view death as not such a bad thing, and ultra-conservatives maintain that death is necessary to give life meaning.

That people should make excuses for death is understandable. Until recently, nothing could be done about it and it made sense to create comforting philosophies that dying of old age is a positive thing.

Now, stem cell, genetic engineering, and nanomedicine technologies promise to one day eliminate most diseases and even abolish human aging. It is becoming increasingly evident that research scientists are getting ever closer to making indefinite lifespan become reality.

Today many of us future watchers have accepted the challenge of keeping our bodies in shape to maneuver through the next two decades when many experts believe that science could eliminate most unwanted deaths, allowing everyone to live a technology-rich life filled with abundant resources.

The things I value most – freedom, joy, friendship and fun of discovery are all limited by my lifespan. I want more. More time to think and do all the wonderful things I can imagine. A “magical future” that could arrive in as early as 20 years promises to help me obtain these things.

I do not want these things for myself alone, which would be an empty and lonely existence. No, I want this additional time for friends, relatives – every human on Earth who might also enjoy an indefinite lifespan.

I want more time to learn, grow, and follow a path without death constantly looming its ugly head. This driving force encourages me to write weekly articles depicting a positive and optimistic future. Let us enrich ourselves by believing that an extended lifespan without fears of unwanted death will soon be ours to enjoy. Comments welcome.





If there would be no physical difference to the developing foetus, then yes, why not?

However in vivo pregnancy is a huge factor in mother/child bonding so there would have to be a biochemical and somatic ‘fix’ for this too.

To use a rather misused phrase in western culture “The best interests of the child” would have to be paramount.





Clearly, the technology has not matured enough today for this radical science to become acceptable; but as we meander through the 2030s and beyond, artificial wombs could become the way of the future.





Nono, I did mean in the timescale suggested in your article!





@contraterrine,

You could be right, but I believe this technology, driven by career women who do not wish to take time off to gestate a child will make this become reality within the time frame suggested.

This science could become a way of life for many women by the end of the 2030s.

Comments welcome.





I’m personally very torn here as both a parent and a futurist. Mostly so as a person who has to deal with all these adults who were not loved as children.

The technology may be nearly ready but our humanity has a long way to go before we could dream of having this technology ethically applied.

I personally don’t see working women being the driving force behind this technology, if anything other than military/ labor purposes I see the chauvinistic conquering of the female body as the catalyst for allowing such technology to become prevalent. Even if it were to be working women, the decision to base childrearing practices around the convenience of corporations or at best the selfish indulgences of ambition is ill advised.





Don’t forget the many advantages that artificial wombs offer.

Today, fetuses are 100% dependent on their mother’s health and sensible judgment. If mom falls prey to accidents, disease, or inadequate nutrition, the embryo can become traumatized.

Babies would no longer be exposed to alcohol or illegal drugs by careless mothers, and the correct body temperature would always be maintained with 100% of necessary nutrients provided.

In addition, pro-lifers should jump for joy. Choosing an abortion to protect a mother’s health would not be necessary, as artificial wombs could bring all aborted embryos to term. Unwanted pregnancies would no longer mean a death sentence for the unborn.

I see this technology as a natural part of the human evolutionary scene. Although it may take some getting used to, the benefits far outweigh the negative concerns.





First do no harm. It is easy to imagine that we understand gestation well enough to mechanize it, but we certainly do not know enough today. A thorough exploration of all biochemical and neurosensory processes involved is needed to design an artificial womb that can do as well or better than the “real thing.”

At the same time, the “real thing” can be a pretty bad proposition. In addition to the issues mentioned by Dick, there’s a biggie that has seriously affected human development. The space the birth canal occupies the pelvis of a human is significantly smaller on average than the size of the cranium of a full-term infant. This creates serious risks to the mother during delivery and produces wildly varying levels of neurological damage to the newborn. Of course, non-vaginal delivery (caesarian) carries the risks of rather significant surgery.

We have managed to make adjustments to accommodate these and many more issues, but the fact of a workable process (for the lucky) does not show that the process is as good as it might be. I think extracorporeal gestation is both inevitable and desirable; however, I do not want to see thoughtless technologists charge in to redesign a process without really understanding what they are changing. And yes, that happens all the time…





@ Dan Massey,

Your description of today’s birth issues is correct.

However, I do not believe that technologists are thoughtlessly redesigning a process without understanding what they are changing.

One of the more promising researchers, Dr. Hung-Ching Liu believes she can create a human model by early 2030s, and if Kurzweil is right and information technologies advance exponentially between now and the 2030s, I see no reason why a working artificial womb will not be developed during this time-frame.

Granted, it may take several years; possibly to mid-century or after, before this technology becomes accepted by mainstream society, but this is definitely an improvement that humanity needs as we trek through this century.





Why not put up a “Solve for X” prize to speed up this research?
Prizes for the first scientist to develop an artificial uterus able to bring to term an ex-situ pregnancy for 1) mouse, 2) dogs, 3) cats, 4) cows, 6) humans.

How much money is moved by this type of research? Not so much I think. So any decent prize could shake up the water a bit.





Interesting article, however, like a the other articles I’ve read discussing artificial birth it misses one crucial point. We live in a capitalist economy and it will be corporations (ie. biotech multinationals) who will have the resources to make this technology widely available. And it is inevitable that with artificial wombs we will also have human cloning. It seems very close to reality that in the near future a parentless child will be born and that some infertile couple with financial means will pay a biotech lab to purchase this child. Let’s name this transaction. The purchase of human life is slavery. The biotech company will be parent/owner and the new parents will be parent/owner. And while the initial artificial birth transaction might take place between a smaller biotech company/lab in some country that allows human cloning, the Pandora’s box will be opened and eventually a much larger biotech giant will step up with economies of scale and cheaper, more efficient production methods. Artificial birth factories could easily become the norm, complete with Brave New World options for gender, height and skin, eye and hair colour. And what about parents who back out of their purchases? How about orphanages for unwanted “product”. Maybe the unwanted clone babies could be sold into factories or used for military. Heck they could even become slave/workers for the biotech that gave them life.
Ah science. So hopeful, so naive.





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