The Infinite Womb

An IEET article observes that Juntendo University researcher Yosinori Kuwabara "predicts that a fully functioning artificial womb capable of gestating a human fetus will evolve in the near future." Cornell University's Dr. Hung-Ching Liu who has successfully implanted and grown mouse embryos in a lab-created uterine lining says it could be as soon as 2020 for animals and 2030 for humans.

The article notes that "In an unusual twist, this technology offers justification to pro-lifers in the abortion debates." How so? A few weeks ago, a Facebook friend asked the following question:
Let’s say we build a machine that’s a perfect simulation of a womb. It can take a human egg and sperm and replace the need for a woman to carry it. However, the machine is scalable, so that it can carry the human through the entirety of its development, all the way to the point where the cells naturally break down and stop working (i.e., through adulthood, old age and death). If the human never leaves the womb, and goes through all the same phases of development that you and I do, at what point do we consider it alive? Do we ever consider it alive?
http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/pelletier20121113The current state of affairs is a strange moral place where the worth of the fetus is determined solely by the mother. If she wants to keep the baby, the fetus is infinitely precious and you can be prosecuted if you harm the "child in utero". However, if the mother decides she doesn't want the child, the fetus is determined to be no more important than a wart.

It is an odd thing that this one person determines the worth of another living thing. Even a dog's worth is not determined by its owner - just ask Michael Vick. Right, wrong or indifferent, this situation is certainly odd and unique.

But my FB friend's question calls attention to the 'magical birth canal' sophism - i.e., there is something magical about the infant leaving the birth canal and taking a breath that validates its sanctity or humanity or its life. This is presumably why some docs can perform partial birth abortions because so long as the face is not exposed and a breath is not taken the child is not considered fully human and the activity is not considered infanticide.

If this current way of thinking is applied to the artificial womb scenario, it would appear the object growing in an artificial womb would not be considered human or 'alive' unless and until it took a breath of outside air or the mother deemed it so.

Applying the current ethos to the artificial womb reveals how ridiculous the current thinking on this matter can be. Add to that the potential to more readily observe the fetal development - albeit maybe not as transparently as the womb galleries depicted in the image provided with the article - and the likelihood of earlier and earlier application of the 'life' or 'baby' moniker increases. Just as ultrasounds affect the way a mother now views the developing fetus within her womb, so seeing the developing human form would certainly affect future observers.

However, one suspects that abortions could become increasingly rare for those using artificial wombs as the purposefulness of the sans-sexual insemination process would move it ever closer to former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders' wish that every child be a wanted child. If women could harvest eggs and store them for future artificial insemination in artificial wombs and be rendered functionally sterile with birth control, the need for abortions due to accidental pregnancy could theoretically be eliminated. And it is difficult to imagine a couple purposefully initiating the artificial womb process and then pulling the plug at some later stage of development - that is, those who were careful and purposeful.

One can just as easily imagine a world in which individuals desire the natural birthing process, careless partners not preventing pregnancy, or those without access to birth control still using the "dark and dangerous place" for gestation.

However, having the parallel option of artificial wombs would certainly bring clarity to the double standard that is debated even today. On the one hand it would be easy to understand that a vandal who removes the fetus from the life giving sustenance of the artificial womb could be easily charged with murder. What would not be so easy to understand is why the woman who separates the fetus in her womb from her life giving sustenance would not be so charged. If those two cases are not equivalent, then one is tacitly stating that an artificially produced child has more right to life than a naturally gestated fetus.

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