Beyond the Womb
In Huxley’s far-future masterpiece Brave New World, no one is born from a human mother. Every new baby is grown in a tank in a factory-like complex. There are no families, no mothers, and no fathers. Children are raised by loudspeakers gently speaking lessons about life and happiness.
Currently, a synthetic in which environment to cultivate a human being does not exist. It is difficult to do, because the womb and a woman’s body is idealized for birth. However, with research into genetics, bio-engineering, and organic 3D printing, we are getting close to what could be called “ectogenesis” or a method in which to produce a healthy baby from a test tube without the need for a surrogate mother. (See this article).When I described this technology to a friend, his response was “That’s a dystopia!” We agreed to disagree over the meaning of “dystopia.” He does, however, have a point. This type of technology could lead to horrible things. Imagine human beings grown in a factory only to live a slave-like existence, or babies grown to be lab rats for scientific research.
The implications are horrifying.There is however, a good side to this potentially miraculous ability. Some journalists say that the artificial womb will change ideas like parenthood, birth, the family, and feminism forever. This is undeniable. The idea of the perfectly planned child is slightly eerie, but empowering to those who cannot make a child on their own. It will allow couples of the same gender and single parents to “make children” without the help of a third party.
But like I said earlier, the potential for abuse in this area of technology is huge. Parents are already trying to produce genetically engineered “designer babies” with the right color hair, eyes, and skin, but genetic research into intelligence and health could soon culminate into the creation of a genetically enhanced “super baby.” Many critics say that the astronomical cost of using this technology could one day create a wealth, health, and intelligence gap between parents who can afford a genius, disease-free baby and those who can’t.
The idea that you might be able to manufacture a prodigy with total success is a frightening one.The ethics behind all of this is undoubtedly up for debate, and in the coming decades we as a people will have to confront these issues, issues that deal with the very nature of humanity itself and beg the question “What is a human being?” Different people, organizations, special interest groups, and political parties will all give you different answers. The most conservative of us will say that any combination of sperm and egg constitutes a human being with rights. Others give different timelines for personhood. But most bio-ethical issues of abortion, artificial insemination, and stem-cell research come from the fact that an adult human being is involved.
If a baby is grown in a tank, and then abandoned halfway through, is it an abortion? Will a baby made in a machine be seen the same as one birthed from a living mother?These are the next wave of ethical issues that we will be hearing about on the news. This is no doubt an issue that will go to the courts, where they will decide if mankind is ready for this kind of reproductive power. I can foresee that the first humans created artificially will be met with discrimination, even disgust, due to the fact that they had a “synthetic” upbringing.
I personally believe that the benefits associated with artificial gestation technology outweigh the ethical risks. Single parents as well as those with health risks associated with birth will be able to have a child, and miscarriages can be totally eliminated. But as always, we must be vigilant of those who would use this incredible science in abuse.
Originally published at www.cybernole.net on June 29, 2015.