Artifical Wombs: Technological Leap or Black Mirror-esque Nightmare? | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Artifical Wombs: Technological Leap or Black Mirror-esque Nightmare?

Comment Editor Kat Smith argues that although artificial wombs are an incredible breakthrough for premature births, they could have detrimental effects on society

If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know at least three things: there’s going to be a General Election in June, Prince Philip has retired from his royal duties and artificial wombs are being developed. What a crazy time.

After the revelation of ‘artificial wombs’ working for baby lambs, the controversial development has sparked the question: could we use them to keep premature human babies alive? It’s been suggested that within approximately a decade, an artificial womb could allow premature babies (born from 23 weeks to 25 weeks) to develop for a longer time, thus avoiding complications later in life. Sounds good, right? I thought so too – surely there’s nothing bad about keeping innocent babies alive?

Maybe I’ve been watching way too much Black Mirror, but I now feel like this potentially incredible breakthrough could quickly turn dark. The fear with ‘designer babies’ (where qualities can be altered before the birth of the child) is that it would go from preventing genetic disorders being passed on, to cherry-picking the personality and aesthetic attributes of a child. Who knows what would happen with an artificial womb? The use of them for premature babies could descend into utilising the technology for all pregnancies. We might end up growing babies in bags like those alien egg things we had in primary school.

It’s obviously a good idea in some respects; it could be life-saving technology. I therefore fully support it for the use of protecting premature babies, but I can’t help but fear about the future of external, man-made wombs. It does sound incredible in theory…but then so did being able to record your day through your eyes and having artificial bees to counter the decreasing population until Charlie Brooker proved to us otherwise.

We might end up growing babies in bags like those alien egg things we had in primary school

The most shocking part to me, probably, is that we are turning something that should be beautiful and natural into a clinical procedure in a lab. I have no problem with IVF or surrogacy because that is genuinely just helping couples who want a child to have one and they’re involved throughout, but the fact that artificial wombs may develop to not require any parent to be involved after the point of conception makes me very uncomfortable.

Pregnancy is a human experience and I think it should stay that way; otherwise it may undermine the beauty of human life. Replacing a womb with a bag of fluid and tubes doesn’t quite sit right with me. Let’s put it this way: if you carry a child for nine months, its birth is going to be a magical moment. If you grow a child in a lab for nine months, its birth is going to be like when the McDonalds staff tell you your order’s ready; magical, but not exactly life changing.

Of course, having an artificial womb that allows all couples to have a child, and means a woman doesn’t have to go through nine months of pregnancy, may sound good. However, I fear that it’ll become an expectation; why would a strong career woman want to carry a baby for nine months and potentially disrupt her ascent at work when she can grow her own baby in the local hospital? Imagine her having to tell her child that he grew in a lab because, in 2027, being pregnant isn’t a valuable use of your time.

Also, what’s the problem with adopting? The argument that some couples would thus be able to have their own child instead of adopting is destructive. It’ll reinforce the destructive attitude of people wanting to conceive because otherwise it won’t truly be their child if they adopt. Adoptions would significantly decrease; artificial wombs would mean that there would be less of an incentive for people to adopt the many children who desperately need and deserve families.

Please don’t get me wrong, I think modern medicine is incredible. But it’s incredible when it allows human functions to behave the best they can, and not when they replace these functions for the sake of convenience.

So, I hope the artificial wombs allow babies to survive premature birth, but I also hope researchers realise the risks of its implementation into modern society.

Opinionated second-year Philosophy student and houmous enthusiast. (@katlouiise)


7th May 2017 at 10:00 am

Last Updated

6th May 2017 at 8:01 pm

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Kyaw Lin Aung