The concept of an artificial womb has generated yet another debate about how it could possibly change the nature of human reproduction and what this will mean for women.
It will be recalled that researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in April 2017 developed an artificial womb resembling a plastic bag which has been used to keep premature lambs alive for four weeks outside of their own mother’s wombs, with the hopes that it could one day be applied to premature babies.
The sealed bag (biobag) is made up of polythene and contains amniotic fluid to provide all the nutrients and protection required for growth. It also has an interface which delivers oxygen just as an umbilical cord would, and exchanges gases just like placenta.
Basically, the system works to impersonate the environment of a natural womb, and the researchers have hopes that in the near future, the technology could be adapted for use with premature babies.
But the issues being raised now after a revival of the artificial womb concept is how it is going to change society in terms of equality, freedom and choice. For others, thinking about the idea of their own baby pouch is rather scary.
Nevertheless, it is perhaps ideal to look at some of the medical advantages of this concept when it finally arrives.
The lives of premature babies could be saved, infertile couples could heave a sigh of relief, and older parents could now have children. Gay and trans people would now have fertility options as well. The other thing is this concept could provide a safer alternative to traditional pregnancy and childbirth. The foetus may also have a healthier environment as the risks of alcohol or drugs are eliminated from the system, not forgetting the balance of nutrients, movement, temperature and so on.
But who would determine all these? Who would determine which kind of pregnancy would be ideal? Is it the man? Is it the woman? The doctor, or our bosses at work?
As the author Helen Sedgwick stated in relation to this: “Women’s rights are never more emotive than when it comes to a woman’s right to choose.
While pregnancy occurs inside a woman’s body, women have some control over it, at least. But what happens when a foetus can survive entirely outside the body? How will our legislation stand up when viability begins at conception? There are fundamental questions about what rights we give to embryos outside the body (think of the potential for harvesting “spare parts” from unwanted foetuses). There is also the possibility of pro-life activists welcoming this process as an alternative to abortion – with, in the worst case, women being forced to have their foetuses extracted and gestated outside their bodies.”
There is no denying the fact that an artificial womb could also bring some sort of equality in parenthood and even change our working patterns and private lives? But are we really ready for this?