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