Last updateFri, 24 Oct 2014 5pm


Ectogenesis: Artificial Womb

EctogenesisEctogenesis, as it applies to persons, is the creation and/or continuation of human life outside the human uterus. It can refer to the complete artificial creation of human life (as in Brave New World), or the term can be applied to all technological developments that would result in a shortening of the time required for the fetus to attain viability following implantation in the womb.

This technology, once perfected, has the possibility of allowing a child to be removed from a mother’s diseased uterus or from ectopic pregnancy, without ending the child’s life or endangering the mother’s health. It also confronts the “reproductive choice” arguments by satisfying a woman's right to privacy and the unborn child's right to life. However, ectogenesis could have dehumanizing implications on the children born out of these situations.

Some people see ectogenesis as having the potential to use this technology to form an unholy alliance with other fields of science, such as cloning and organ transplantation, in order to "grow" human clones as organ farms. This theoretical practice is called "pharming".  If these technologies are not confronted, ectogenesis could make it easier for human beings to be grown like a "human harvest" and slaughtered for their parts. It may even give men the ability to experience pregnancy and the birthing (through C-section) of a child.

Current Experiments in Ectogenesis

Dr. Hung-Ching Liu of Cornell University's Centre for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility and her team made headlines in 2002 when they actually grew a human uterus by taking endometrial cells and growing them over scaffolding in the shape of a uterus. The scaffolding dissolved as the cells grew into uterine tissue, which was then supplied with proper nutrients and hormones. To test the womb, embryos left over from in vitro fertilization (IVF) programs were introduced, and they actually began to settle properly. The experiment was halted after six days. An interview with Dr. Liu gives more details on the process. (interview can be found at: http://www.obgyn.net/displaytranscript.asp?page=/avtranscripts/asrm2001-liu) http://www.religioustolerance.org/abowomb.htm

In Japan, Yoshinori Kuwabara of Juntendo University conducted his experiments on goats. Goat fetuses were removed from their dams and placed in clear plastic tanks filled with amniotic fluid, their umbilical cords connected to machines that removed waste and supplied nutrients. The fetuses were kept alive for ten days in this experiment, and later experiments extended the time to three weeks. After removal, some goats lived for a few days, and others for much longer. http://www.religioustolerance.org/abowomb.htm

No experiments have been done on humans to term, but experiments on pre-viable goats have resulted in maintenance of life for several weeks outside the uterus in pre-viable goat fetuses.  Issues related to nutrition and hormonal stability remains to be addressed. Click here to read article from New York Times.