Artificial Wombs and Bioethics:
Where do artificial wombs stand in our global society?
What are artificial wombs?
An artificial womb or uterus is a device that allows an embryo/fetus to grow outside the body of an organism. The invention of artificial wombs (Ectogenesis) is essentially an invention where a life can be completely developed in an external womb. These artificial wombs are intended to help improve survival rates of premature babies. In addition to increasing the survival rates of premature babies, artificial wombs are also intended to support infertile couples, give the gay and trans community a new alternative to having a baby, as well as hopefully becoming a safer alternative to a traditional pregnancy. Doctors are hypothesizing that artificial wombs could lead to incredible medical benefits. However, there are also perspectives that argue there are too many unknowns.
Here is a quick video on artificial wombs:
Why do artificial wombs matter?
- Benefit infertile women
- Benefit same sex couples
- Deaths of premature infants is reduced
- Could possibly end the abortion debate
- In abortion cases, the fetus can be moved to the artificial womb and later put up for adoption
- The process of “growing” a child is being developed more rapidly
- Easier to monitor fetal development
- People can have children without a spouse
- Could possibly be safer than a “normal” womb
- People can have children in older ages
- There is a possibility of a sick and malformed child
- Lack of human intimacy provided from a mothers womb
What are the ethical questions?
- Where do we draw the line between ensuring healthy development and only having children deemed to be the “healthiest”?
- Who decides which type of pregnancy is “best” – women or men? Doctors? Religious leaders? Employers?
- Should artificial wombs be accessible to everyone or just a select population?
- How can artificial wombs minimize total harm?
- Should artificial wombs only be used in order to benefit someone?
How do the principles of bioethics apply?
- Autonomy: Regarding autonomy, the main ethical concern is who gets to make the decision of using an artificial womb. Similar to many bioethical topics, the question of who decides is one of the main concerns regarding artificial wombs. The answers to this question (as to who has autonomy) ranges anywhere from a doctor, a parent or legal guardian of the embryo, etc. Some even argue that there is no autonomy with the use of artificial wombs because it should be the fetus’ decision.
- Non-Maleficence: Looking into artificial wombs, non-maleficence is a major factor. Because there has not been sufficient research on human embryos in an artificial womb, scientists do not even know the exact possibilities of harm. Going off of the current research done on lambs, the main concern is that there are possibilities of the artificial wombs “going wrong”. For example, the effects on humans are unknown (and are not expected to be tested for another 3-5 years) and the long term effects are unknown, so many are concerned that this could lead to health problems in the embryo’s future. Of course, another possibility of an artificial womb is the death of the embryo. Some also think that an embryo developing without the natural connection with their mother (heartbeat, touch, sounds, etc.) is inhumane and therefore bringing the embryo harm.
- Beneficence: Although there is a lot of possible harm regarding artificial wombs, there is also a lot of possibility to do good. For example, artificial wombs can benefit infertile women by giving them a chance to have a baby (just out of their own body). Deaths of premature infants can also be drastically reduced, ultimately saving lives. Many pro-life supporters also support artificial wombs and some even argue that this could possibly end the abortion debate due to the fact that the embryo would no longer have to be aborted, it could be put into an artificial womb and later put up for adoption. Families can also have children at older ages without the major health risks. Many people (including the embryo) can be impacted by the benefits of artificial wombs, however, it is still important to consider that this is all just a possibility.
- Justice: Regarding justice, there are mainly just a lot of questions. Mainly, it is unknown who would have access to artificial wombs. While who gets access to artificial wombs is a major part of justice, another aspect would be the pricing. If artificial wombs are accessible to everyone, but the cost is so high that only a select population can afford it, it could be considered unjust.
What are the different perspectives?
After looking into the different perspectives simply regarding the ethical principles, it’s safe to say that there is a wide range opinions regarding artificial wombs. Perspectives range from absolutely pro-artificial wombs to completely anti-artificial wombs and pretty much everything in between. Whether it’s religion, culture, bias, or even just personal reasoning, one’s perspective on artificial wombs can be drastically altered. In my local community in Minnesota, many people are very open-minded about artificial wombs are are open to the idea. However, from a global aspect, perspectives will certainly differ. For example, traditional Chinese culture would not support this because it’s unnatural and it is believed that there is too much possibility of harming the embryo.
Answering the big question: where do artificial wombs stand in our global society?
Personally, I think that artificial wombs are ethical and should be made an option for families/citizens around the globe. While there is not a lot of research as of right now, that will change over time (seeing that many universities are planning their research regarding artificial wombs already). I also think that everyone -meaning families and such- should at least be given the opportunity to make their own autonomous decision on whether they want to use an artificial womb or not. While this is just my opinion, I am curious to see what everyone else thinks. So… what do you think? What is your perspective? In your opinion, where do artificial wombs stand in our global society? How do you think artificial wombs could be made more ethical?
- Beneficence Nursing and Ethics. Husson University, online.husson.edu/beneficence-nursing-ethics/.
- Bioethical Questions. NurseGroups, www.nursegroups.com/article/bioethics.html. Accessed 25 Apr. 2018.
- Lamb in Artificial Womb. WHRO, whro.org/8-featured-news-opinion/news-opinion/48958-scientists-create-artificial-womb-that-could-help-prematurely-born-babies. Accessed 25 Apr. 2018.
- Rosen, Christine. “Why Not Artificial Wombs?” The New Atlantis, www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/why-not-artificial-wombs.
- Sedgwick, Helen. “Artificial Wombs Could Soon Be a Reality.” The Guardian, 4 Sept. 2017, www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/sep/04/artifical-womb-women-ectogenesis-baby-fertility.
- Speculative Design. TwentyEightyFour, designlabresearch.wordpress.com/. Accessed 25 Apr. 2018.
- Stierwalt, Sabrina. “Could Artificial Wombs Be a Reality?” Scientific American, www.scientificamerican.com/article/could-artificial-wombs-be-a-reality/. Accessed 25 Apr. 2018.
- Yoku, Elizabeth. “Weighing the Ethics of Artificial Wombs.” The New York Times, 8 May 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/05/08/health/artificial-wombs-ethics.html. Accessed 25 Apr. 2018.