A scientific compromise
Ectogenesis may satisfy a long debate
Published: Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 20:07
"'Human beings used to be ... ' he hesitated; the blood rushed to his cheeks. 'Well, they used to be viviparous.'" So wrote Aldous Huxley in his classic novel, "Brave New World." Huxley predicted that humans in the future would no longer give birth naturally, but instead, be grown in glass test tubes. The stuff of science fiction novels, however, is quickly becoming reality. Researchers are getting even closer to developing a technique known as ectogenesis: the process by which a fetus develops into a baby in an environment outside of the mother. Experts estimate that ectogenesis could be possible within the next five years. As weird as it may sound, this technology is not something to fear. Aside from helping infertile couples, ectogenesis may be able to do the impossible: settle the debate over abortion. Both sides of the debate should come together to support this developing procedure. The science of ectogenesis is still in its infancy, leading some to believe that ectogenesis will never exist. However, Dr. Hung-Ching Liu of Cornell University in New York has already developed an artificial womb. His research group also discovered that embryos can attach to the walls of this synthetic womb and begin to grow. Meanwhile, Dr. Yoshinori Kuwabara of Juntendo University in Japan has created an ectogenetic chamber: a tank connected to a machine that brings oxygen and nutrients to the fetus developing inside. Kuwabara has already delivered goats from this chamber, and says that his ectogenetic chamber could be ready for a human fetus in the next five years. Critics of ectogenesis may call it dehumanizing and unnatural, which is odd. Ectogenesis is merely an artificial means to sustain life, and, by this definition, it is no different than life support. Plus, the end result of pregnancy and ectogenesis is a normal human baby, navel and all; one is not less human than the other. And while ectogenesis may entail an unnatural delivery, so does a Caesarean section. Still, the issue of ectogenesis is not as well-known as that of abortion, which has been infamous from the beginning. On one side are the pro-life supporters who believe that a fertilized human egg is a complete human being that has the same rights and privileges as, say, a 35-year-old brain surgeon. On the other side are the pro-choice supporters, who feel that an egg is not a viable human being, but a mass of cells dependent on a woman's body. Hence, a woman has the right to remove these cells from her body. This is a woman's private decision; so, the potential loss of a productive human life need not concern the public. Enter ectogenesis. Now, an unwanted fetus, rather than being aborted, is removed from a woman and placed in an ectogenetic chamber. The fetus is then raised in a laboratory under the supervision of reproductive scientists. Then, the baby is "born" and adopted by a loving family. No abortion takes place, appeasing pro-life groups, while the woman still decides if she wants to be pregnant, satisfying the pro-choice supporters. The fetus, too, fares better. It develops into a child in a much safer environment, one where medical assistance is never far away and there is less risk of alcohol exposure or bodily injury. Skeptics may ask who will provide the money to raise the fetus by ectogenesis. As all technology, the price for such a procedure would be high initially, but, in a matter of time, decrease dramatically. Once ectogenesis becomes routine it may even be equal to, or lower than, the cost of the abortion a woman was originally seeking. So, instead of a woman paying for an abortion, she can instead foot the bill for ectogenesis. What's more, the sundry of pro-life organizations should put their money where their mouth is and help financially support women seeking ectogenesis. Pro-choice groups should not object to ectogenesis either, and should help chip in. Indeed, the amount of resources that both groups spend fighting one another would probably be better served supporting ectogenesis: at least, actual progress will be made. To date, ectogenesis is the only idea where pro-life and pro-choice groups can find common ground. Thus, it gives both the chance to transcend the brutal abortion war, rather than fighting it to no end. Both sides should realize this and finally make amends.