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Artificial womb.
February 10, 2002 9:23 PM   Subscribe

Artificial womb. Goodbye women, hello complex ethical debates. ... artificial wombs raise the prospect that gay couples could give 'birth' to their own children. 'This would no doubt horrify right-wingers, while the implications for abortion law might well please them,' he added.
posted by geoff. (27 comments total)

 
Embryos successfully attached themselves to the walls of these laboratory wombs and began to grow. However, experiments had to be terminated after a few days to comply with in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) regulations.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't?
posted by Darke at 9:46 PM on February 10, 2002


Eventually, these out of womb embryos will be stored in little black shelves, where infants will be mass produced. You'll be able to take your pick from athlete, doctor, web designer...

Eventually, everyone will grow in out of womb embryos because it will be far more convenient. It'll be just like the Borg.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:53 PM on February 10, 2002


This could have horrible as well as amazingly good implications. But, I shudder at the thought of the fact that this reminds me of a certain part of Brave New World, by our dearest Aldous Huxley.
posted by trioperative at 9:54 PM on February 10, 2002


Science fiction author Lois McMaster Bujold has covered this topic extensively in her Vor series, where 'uterine replicators' are de rigueur and where natural births are considered obscene. Consider this review of her "Ethan of Athos"... "Our hero is a quiet, upstanding citizen of Athos, an obstetrician in a world in which reproduction is carried out entirely via uterine replicator, without the aid of living women. Problem: the 200-year-old cultures are not providing eggs the way they used to, and attempts to order replacements by mail have failed catastrophically. But when Ethan is sent to find out what happened and acquire more eggs, he finds himself in a morass of Cetagandan covert ops and Jackson Whole politics--and the only person who's around to rescue him is the inimitable--and, disturbingly, female--Elli Quinn, Dendarii rent-a-spy."
posted by Lynsey at 10:19 PM on February 10, 2002


This seems like a truly revolutionary invention, should they actually succeed at doing this. Obviously these experiments can't be done to completion (the whole nine months) in humans, but I'm sure someone is applying for a grant to do this with goats for the whole process, or something.
The ethical scenarios are extremely troubling. The abortion scenario mentioned has the woman being told she has to "look after" the child. But of course, many will probably give it up for adoption, which may create serious problems with unwanted children, especially because this will enable many infertile couples to have children, thus decreasing the demand. The "women forced to opt for artificial womb by nasty insurance companies" may not come true, simply because of cost measures (this sounds like it might be more expensive than natural pregnancy). But one day, of course, this process will probably be cheap. The "women no longer necessary" issue is probably spurious. Last I heard, they still need eggs from women. (Of course, processes that turn sperm into eggs might make women then no longer necessary, but could in reverse also make men unnecessary)
On the plus side, this will put an end to the thorny issue of surrogates.
posted by Charmian at 10:26 PM on February 10, 2002


insomnyuk: Actually, the Borg assimilates life forms that have already come about naturally, it doesn't create new ones. It's massive intelligence comes partly from the fact that it includes so many different perspectives. Of course, those perspectives are all directed towards furthering the assimilation of yet others...

Yes, I need to get out more.
posted by bingo at 10:30 PM on February 10, 2002


hum, I think huxley covered the topic extensively quite a few years before bujold (was born...). pretty sure he wrote about the whole obscenity-of-natural-process gig too.

"a gramme is better than a damn" and all that.
posted by dorian at 10:33 PM on February 10, 2002


This won't "solve" abortion - there's no method yet created to extract fetal cells and plug them into the cyberwomb. Even then, you still have many of the problems with adoption - sense of abandonment and unwantedness for the child, concern for the child and reconsideration on the part of the woman - you just solve the biological dangers of pregnancy.

What the fetal extractor/implantor could solve quite well is unwanted miscarriage - if you're known to lose the baby (aka wanted fetal cells) you could put it in a box to grow up to independence. That's the more important *medical* application.

Don't start me on what that does to the gene pool...
posted by phoenix enflamed at 10:41 PM on February 10, 2002


The Japanese scientists feel the British press exaggerates a bit. They can keep the goat fetuses alive for only three weeks. But they do say about ten years.
posted by Charmian at 10:59 PM on February 10, 2002


I love you, cold unfeeling robot arm.
posted by darukaru at 11:10 PM on February 10, 2002


I went almost a day without Metafiltering, and then I find this news? Oh, boy, I need to get out. God is in control...
posted by aaronshaf at 11:43 PM on February 10, 2002


I can't see an artificial womb serving out a term successfully (honestly). A womb isn't just a warm place for growing cells (heck, any kid with an E-Z-bake oven can make an artificial bird's nest), a womb doles out nutrients to a developing fetus as needed. If mom eats spicy food, baby kicks, if baby is dehydrated, mom's womb adjusts and compensates appropriately.

I can't imagine an artificial womb could posses all the correct feedback mechanisms to actually produce a healthy baby after nine months of gestation. I would also suspect a sizable amount of women's bodies would reject the tissue, even if it started as their own cells.
posted by mathowie at 12:17 AM on February 11, 2002


"... if artificial wombs are developed, the foetus could be placed in one, and the woman told she has to look after it once it has developed into a child."

Was there a man involved here at some point? Or are we talking about these women you hear about who get themselves pregnant?
posted by different at 12:52 AM on February 11, 2002


Bene Tleilax axtotl tanks, anyone?
posted by Hypnerotomachia at 2:25 AM on February 11, 2002


How very Ixian of you, Hypnerotomachia. You know of course that those tanks turned out to actually be women...
posted by bingo at 3:23 AM on February 11, 2002


As to the Brave New World allusions, in Aldous Huxley's novel fetuses are "decanted" from artificial wombs. As opposed to our supposedly more advanced ideas on eugenics through genetic engineering, in Huxley's dystopia, various classes are created by putting more or less alcohol into the mix of nutrients given to the babies-in-bottles.

As well, women are still needed for the processes detailed in the article, just as men are still needed for in vitro fertilization. In addition to the need for an embryo, which so far requires an egg cell, they used cells from the lining of the genetic mother's uterus, so as to preclude tissue rejection.
posted by meep at 3:27 AM on February 11, 2002


I don't think that that an artificial womb is going to really assist in preventing the vast majority of abortions. Who is going to pay for the unwanted child? I doubt that the governments of even the wealthiest of first world countries are going to be prepared to pay for the maintenance of this level of technology:

'There are so many critical stages of pregnancy, and so many factors to get right.'

The only viable solution to deal with unwanted pregnancies is still education, and sexual responsibility.
Like this planet needs more unwanted children, anyway.

[offtopic] bingo, have you read the Prequels to Duneby Brian Herbet, his son? I'm finishing the third. Aparently there's a final volume from FH's hand, penned before his death, somewhere in the offing [/offtopic]
posted by Hypnerotomachia at 3:48 AM on February 11, 2002


I'd prefer to spend our limited funds to care for the world's real mothers. UNICEF: "A woman in the developing world is on average 40 times more likely than a woman living in the industrialized world to die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. A study in Bangladesh showed that when a woman dies in childbirth, her surviving baby is 3 to 10 times more likely to die within two years than a child who is living with both parents."
posted by Carol Anne at 5:35 AM on February 11, 2002


This could have horrible as well as amazingly good implications.

Amazingly good? How so? There are already too many damn kids in the world who don't have any parents. Let's not muddle with nature to make more.
posted by glenwood at 5:56 AM on February 11, 2002


now my plans to be my evil twin brother are complete! i just need to grow a goatee :)

pod people are good for replacement parts.
posted by kliuless at 6:44 AM on February 11, 2002


processes that turn sperm into eggs might make women then no longer necessary

Not to worry. Nature has already thought ahead on this one. DNA from male and female gametes is differentially methylated (deactivated) at specific genes such that a male/male or female/female fertilization would lack any useable copies of some genes and therefore be unviable. Not to mention, 25% of such pairings would result in YY males! (a bad thing)
posted by plaino at 7:01 AM on February 11, 2002


I'm trying to figure out why I'm supposed to be horrified by this... Any ideas?
posted by revbrian at 8:01 AM on February 11, 2002


There's always an irresistable urge to keep pushing the bounds of science, but I wish that talented people like this were working on projects like the AIDS Orphans Assistance Database instead. The world already has plenty of kids who need adoptive parents. With 12 million+ AIDS orphans in Africa alone, I wonder what the underlying motivation is for going to such great lengths to create kids of a genetically-controlled variety.
posted by sheauga at 9:15 AM on February 11, 2002


Actually, I get more and more annoyed every time I see science pushing the limits of infertility science. Part of this stems from religious ideas (I'm Roman Catholic), but part of this stems from my concerns about practical effects.

I know not all infertility problems are genetically-related, but I think it reasonable to assume that genetic children of parents who cannot conceive naturally or carry a child to term might end up with the same problems, also needing advanced technology to reproduce. Costs have been dropping for infertility treatments, and insurance companies have been covering these things more often (sometimes because of demand, and sometimes due to court rulings) -- still, I doubt there will be any cheaper method of conception than sex, and I can't imagine that the upkeep of artificial wombs will be easier or cheaper than the natural way.

Still, it would be more to the point to know what the causes of various types of infertility are, to know whether people needing to use various infertility treatments are dooming their children to need the same expensive methods to have their own genetic children. Of course, if it comes out that there is a great inherited component of infertility, I can see that here in the litigious U.S. children will sue their parents to provide the funds so that =they= can reproduce and continue the cycle...

And for the ones who would use such artificial wombs to get rid of the bother of pregnancy and childbirth... shee, it's bad enough that parents pay other people to raise their kids. Why have children in the first place, if you're going to have someone else do all the work? Are genetic children simply accessories to the well-rounded life?
posted by meep at 10:59 AM on February 11, 2002


This line is probably dead but i will post any way. Unfortunatly this is how things will go. The truth is that people want thier own kids and will go to extreme measures to get them. This will make adoption even more less likely in mainstream society. The scary thing for me is that I can see future trophy wives using this so they can ahve kids with out messing thier figures.
posted by crackheadmatt at 2:22 PM on February 11, 2002


Hypnerotomachia: I stopped reading when Frank died. I couldn't get past the idea that with the author's death, the universe of the story becomes a closed system. The fact that the new author is his son doesn't really mean much to me. But, he could be a great writer for all I know. Not sure I want to see that posthumous volume, either...things were getting pretty whacked toward the end; I'd hate for it to become a sort of Eyes Wide Shut.
posted by bingo at 3:31 PM on February 11, 2002


Pregnancy and birth are cool. Don't let machines have all the fun. :)
posted by beth at 8:01 PM on February 11, 2002


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