In what may seem like something out of a science fiction film, you may have heard about lambs being brought to term in a bio-bag outside of the womb. This technology could actually be used on human fetuses within the next ten years. The term, Ectogenesis is what a pregnancy outside of the uterus is known as. This controversial topic has lead to many positive and negative discussions. Surrogacy, cloning, and in vitro fertilization have all had their share of controversy in the past. As with all of the different ways medicine explores childbirth and fertility, it’s important to see the pros and cons of every method. Read on to learn more about this groundbreaking technology.
How This Works
Ectogenesis is where a fetus is grown outside of the womb. As with the baby lamb experiment, the lamb fetus is grown in a bio-bag or artificial womb until they reach full-term. This bag provides nutrients, a blood supply, and amniotic fluid. The two technologies used in this process are artificial womb technology or AWT and one we’re all familiar with which is Neonatal intensive care unit or NICU. When we think of a baby born and being put into intensive care for weeks or even months, we don’t consider this as a fetus growing outside of the womb, but in some cases it’s similar. This type of care is used when a premature baby, for example, needs to grow and develop further outside of the womb to survive. This life-saving technology has helped millions of babies. The artificial womb technology is a lot more controversial in that a real womb isn’t used from the start.
While there are naturally many concerns to this technology, there are some benefits that are hard to dispute. Around 300,000 women die from pregnancy or pregnancy-related complications each year. If a pre-existing condition is known to exist in a woman, this technology may be able to give them a child and save their lives in the process. A baby’s health is completely reliant on the health of a mother. Taking out any hazards, infections, or other threats could save a baby’s life. The fetus would be grown in a controlled, safe environment, free of any complications arising from a mother with health risks for example.
People are also discussing the idea that this technology could help balance gender inequality when it comes to standard gender roles. Same-sex couples could also be helped through Ectogenesis. Medically, women with uterus abnormalities or disorders could have children born outside of the womb for the safety of themselves and their unborn child.
Potential Impact On Society
While it may seem like this could help some families, mothers, and babies, this technology isn’t without concerns. One big concern is the idea of mother and child bonding. Some people feel that the time babies spend in the womb is crucial to their bond with the mother. Feeling kicks, and experiencing birth are all part of the natural relationship that takes place between a mother and a child. One could definitely argue here however that in the case of surrogacy, gestational carriers, and adoption, a mother can feel just as bonded with a baby with or without having carried them and given birth. You could say the same about fathers, step-parents and other caregivers.
Another big topic of contention is that with this technology a fetus is considered a life at the point of conception. This could potentially change how abortions are regulated around the world. According to Carlo Bulletti, associate professor at Yale University, we could see babies born in an artificial womb within the decade. Even with all of the potential risks, societal impacts, and public opinion, it’s not crazy to think that this technology will actually be tested with humans in our lifetimes.