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RJ Tech Talk: Artificial Wombs

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November 5, 2014

What are artificial wombs?

Artificial wombs are devices that are able to allow embryos to grow outside of a person’s body. They do not exist yet, but many predict they will be a reality within the next two decades. As a form of ectogenesis, they allow for the growth of an organism externally from a bodily womb in an artificial environment.  The artificial uterus will be able to provide oxygen, nutrients, and dispose of wastes to ensure fetal growth. This highly controlled and self-sustaining environment would be able to safeguard the baby from disease and external pollutants (eg. alcohol, drugs or other environmental pollutants). The possibilities and applications of these things are endless!

Benefits:

Artificial wombs have the potential to assist couples that don’t have the capabilities of producing children, whether its because their sex organs aren’t able to hold children, or their uteruses aren’t cable of initiating fetal development. These wombs could also be used for replacement organs and would allow for men to give birth. Because they are external, they would also prevent the potential health complications and dangers that come with pregnancy and giving birth. They will inevitability expand the opportunity for all different types of people to have children.

It is clear that these technologies will also have great social implications, making women less depended on for carrying children, and extending the spectrum of age and gender for which people have the ability to conceive. The existence of artificial wombs would create a world where there is more freedom of choice and fewer sexual boundaries for having children. It would also potentially aid in taking down social pressures that prevent pregnant women from being discriminated against or feeling like don’t have as much professional agency. Everyone would be freed from the restrictions and prejudices of the current state of reproductive capability because everyone would be given an equal opportunity to grow a child!

Controversial Discussions:

Of course the idea of animals being able to reproduce without the need for a body has many ethical implications and if it does become less theoretical, and an actual reality there will be some controversy around the development of artificial wombs.

Artificial Wombs Are Coming, but the Controversy Is Already Here by Zoltan Istavan

Zoltan Istavan is a futurist and philosopher who makes an excellent case for why these wombs could easily become a widely accessible within the next 30 years, and ready to use within the next 20 years. In the article he talks about the direction of development with reproductive health technologies (helping people conceive and “finding ways to save premature babies”), as well as arguing that artificial wombs would “further unchain women from the home and extend the age women can have children.

The Artificial Womb Will Change Feminism Forever by Samantha Allen

Allen’s article is extremely important in discussing the ways in which these technologies will alter social hierarchies. She writes, “Ectogenesis will pry open every gendered fault-line in contemporary cultural politics, from workplace politics to the men’s rights movement to an increasingly virulent abortion debate. The artificial womb will undoubtedly improve the lives of some women who opt to use it, but the separation of childbirth from a woman’s body will also give the anti-feminist Right terrifying new points of leverage at a crucial moment in feminist history.” This article was extremely empowering and thought provoking because Allen isn’t afraid to trace the social implications that artificial wombs will potentially have and the political pushback that they will inevitably face.

The Artificial Womb Is Born by Perri Klass

This is one of the oldest articles that addresses artificial wombs and it gives a background of their development in Japan. Reiterating the Aldous Huxley, Brave New World trope that seems to be intertwined with the press coverage of these things, the article goes on to break down the structure of the wombs, as well as the potential for discussion among bioethicists. Klass does an excellent job of explaining the multifaceted practical potential of artificial wombs, but also covers some of the preferential debates over gestational versus genetic relationships. Her article is pretty dated because she only interviews women and doesn’t extrapolate outwards into the potential of these wombs to benefit people across age and sexuality, but it is an interesting first look at the topic.

Other Resources:

Artificial Wombs in Fiction by Wikipedia

This is the only extensive list I could find of of ectogenesis in fiction. Wikipedia rules and I would highly recommend checking this article out!

 

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