Imagine having children from your bloodline but were never nurtured within your womb! Some people may be shocked, but others may be thrilled. Especially those who cannot have children. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this new breakthrough research.
How Did Motherless Birth Technology Materialize?
New advances in genetics and stem cell research have transformed childbirth to significantly improve the possibility of saving the lives of premature babies, as well as helping those who can’t conceive a child naturally.
Researchers are now approaching a 21st-century incubation technology analogous to those futuristic sci-fi movies we see – the artificial womb, which is a biotechnological breakthrough, called ectogenesis that will change the course of human reproduction forever.
The word was coined in 1924 and describes pregnancy occurring outside the womb. The scientist who labeled this word predicted that by 2074, more than 70% of the fetuses will grow in an artificial environment. His prediction might be right on target. Today, a preterm fetus with a gestational (the period of time between conception and birth) age of 22 weeks can survive outside the mother’s womb. With a little more than halfway through the pregnancy, sophisticated medical equipment with replicated womb-like conditions will allow the fetus to continue to grow in an artificial environment.
Studies are still underway to push back the minimal gestational age. Eventually, this technology will take over the natural pregnancy and childbirth process completely. But will society accept this artificial birthing process? Is the technology 100% safe and risk-free? Here are some answers to the artificial womb and motherless birthing.
The research on ectogenesis began earlier in the last century. However, there has been rapid progress over the last 20-30 years. It is during this time that the world has experienced marked improvements in neonatal intensive care.
But in the last decade, there was extensive research on how a human fetus can grow outside the human body. A fetus develops vital organs like lungs, liver and kidneys well in advance of its birth. This is the reason why a minimal gestational age of 22-24 weeks is required for the survival of premature babies. Until this time, the fetus has developed vital organs required for cleansing the blood. Only then can the fetus manage to survive in artificial conditions like an incubator.
there was extensive research on how a human fetus can grow outside the human body. A fetus develops vital organs like lungs, liver and kidneys well in advance of its birth. This is the reason why a minimal gestational age of 22-24 weeks is required for the survival of premature babies. Until this time, the fetus has developed vital organs required for cleansing the blood. Only then can the fetus manage to survive in artificial conditions like an incubator.
A few years ago, a review published by the New York Academy of Sciences highlighted significant medical achievements. It showed two major developments in ectogenesis. One is the development of an artificial amniotic fluid which provides the right environment for the fetus. The other is the transfer of an embryo from the laboratory to the uterus of the mother. Both these technologies will allow the transfer of an embryo to a system which includes the placenta and the umbilical cord. These two organs provide nourishment to the fetus and remove all types of waste from the blood.
So far, the survival of the premature baby born at the gestational age of 22-24 weeks depends upon the optimal functioning of the lungs, kidneys, and liver. Further research in this field will substantially improve the survival of premature babies. It is expected that it will lead to the complete development of a fetus in an artificial setting. This means that a fetus can grow without the need of a uterus even in the early stages.
Who Benefits from this Technology?
This is advantageous to many segments of society. Those who are most likely to benefit from this technology include:
Couples Who Cannot Have Children
The artificial womb is the perfect technology which can help couples who are unable to have children naturally. It is a step ahead of in-vitro fertilization and is equally beneficial for both men and women. This advancement allows couples to rent artificial wombs so that they can have children. Though the children grow in an artificial setting, they would genetically and legally be the offspring of the donor couple.
Survival of Premature Babies
The artificial womb, known as the Biobag, is far better than the conventional incubators. The environmental conditions are much closer to conditions inside a mother’s womb. This would significantly improve the survival rate of premature babies. Researchers will be able to push down the minimal gestational age necessary for survival.
By eliminating the need for a real womb, ectogenesis can allow gay couples to have children without the need of a surrogate mother. Instead, they only need an egg donor. The same applies to transgender people who wish to have a child.
It is theorized that children grown in an artificial womb are likely to be smarter and less prone to diseases. In fact, they might be perfect kids with a limited risk of genetically transmitted conditions. Will it possible to handle such perfect humans? How it will affect the future of humankind still remains a mystery.
As mentioned. motherless births have the potential to develop living human beings without the need of a human carrier. But the role of the mother is not only limited to providing nourishment and the right environment. It has an emotional aspect as well. Fetal growth outside the womb will deprive both the mother and the child of this emotional bonding. No one knows how this will alter relationships in the future.
Ectogenesis will have numerous medical benefits. Artificial wombs can save the lives of premature babies, can help infertile couples and enable older people to have children. It gives a chance for high-risk pregnant women to have a child without risking their lives. In the coming years, it could offer a safer alternative to conventional pregnancy and childbirth. However, it can alter our ideas about intimacy, relationships, and human nature.
The technology of the artificial womb has come far but it still needs to be perfected through further research and accepted in today’s society. People may be skeptical. Will it be possible to handle such (theoretical) perfect human beings? Is there more research related to the mental health of children through ectogenesis required? What will religious groups say? What if unscrupulous groups try to exploit this development in a nefarious manner such as the perfect ‘soldier’ or ‘superhuman’? How it will affect the societal, religious and political future of humankind still remains a mystery.
Even when science develops to perfection the physical aspect of ectogenesis, society may take a much longer time to accept its consequences from a psychological perspective.