By Leroy Leijtens
There is little to no chance you remember anything of the time being inside your mother’s womb. But what if there is no mother to be remembered in the future?
Being born out of an artificial womb might sound like a far fetched Matrix-like phenomenon. However, the first successful experiments were already conducted with lambs by The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 2017. An artificial womb, also referred to as the ‘Biobag’, was used to let the sheep infants that are born months too early, develop in a safe and healthy manner. The Biobag is filled with fluids and imitates a natural womb by providing oxygen and nutrition through the umbilical cord. The experiment was successful, all of the lambs grew into healthy sheep.
Guid Oei, gynaecologist and professor at Technical University Eindhoven: “The artificial wombs have only been tested on sheep but in the near future human infants will be grown inside a Biobag as well and the traditional incubators can be replaced.” According to OK Visie, in The Netherlands only, 1700 children are born before 32 weeks of pregnancy. Half of all babies that are born after 24 weeks do not make it since an incubator is not always the solution. Chances are high that the ones who survive will experience serious health conditions for the rest of their lives. Every day and week that can be won by using a Biobag increases the life expectancy of these infants.
A more distant future is one where children will be grown completely in a Biobag, theoretically meaning that women will not have to get pregnant anymore. The Dutch TV-series ‘De Toekomst is Fantastisch’ (The Future is Fantastic) explored what impact such developments can have when an artificial womb is installed in the comfort of our own homes. The fertilization process will be done in a lab and once the embryo starts growing it can be transported into the Biobag. Besides all health benefits, we could actually be able to see the baby grow. Of course, there are certain ethical laws that restrict such developments but you never know what will happen in the future.
So what impact will an artificial womb have on our society? When women do not have to get pregnant anymore they can continue their work and the maternity leave might disappear. Maybe maternity leave starts once the baby is born out of the Biobag? But what will giving birth look like? The woman’s husband or mother does not have to hold her hand and stand beside the bed saying ‘You can do it’. The future of being born might actually be more boring than one might think.
Another ethical question is the fact that a really big factor that sets women apart from men is the ability to carry a baby and give birth. When both are not having a baby naturally but let an artificial womb do it for them, seems like the ultimate scenario of gender equality. However, it is up for debate whether society will accept this way of thinking.
The fundamental question that many are asking is what the impact is on the emotional development of a child. The mother-child connection already starts in the belly of a woman. When a child is born artificially the connection only starts with the first touches. Instinctively a baby knows who the mother is since it has been in her belly for nine months. So what will this be like while using artificial wombs in the future?
All of this is happening, technology is rapidly developing. Not only does this provide tremendous health benefits, but it is also groundbreaking within many industries. It is up to us to choose between a safer, more controllable and healthier way of growing a baby or the old-fashioned, natural way of having a child.