Artificial Womb and its Importance
- An Artificial Womb or a Biobag can develop a fetus outside of the human body, providing exactly the same environment as the maternal womb. It has various advantages but has also raised some ethical concerns.
- Child Birth is considered a blessing in all cultures but gestation can be tricky, given how our bodies have evolved over the years. In such a condition, the advancement of technology that helps in gestation is a boon to society. Two teams of researchers in 2017 and 2019 respectively claimed the superiority of their models. These models were of Prototype Artificial Wombs. It was initially tested on animals and after the success of the tests, it was to be tried on humans.
- An Artificial Womb also referred to as Biobag is a device that facilitates the gestation of a foetus outside of the human body. Also referred to as a Neonatal incubator, a Biobag / Artificial Womb allows for ectogenesis, which implies the development of a foetus outside of the maternal womb. Though, a lot of scientists may argue that it serves a different purpose.
Artificial Womb working
- An artificial womb is meant to facilitate the process of ectogenesis, which is basically the development of a foetus in an artificial environment. This is a follow-up process that indicates the transfer from a maternal womb. The Biobag is a sealed bag with an umbilical cord with access and an oxygenator circuit. A lot like a maternal womb, the bag stays completely sealed in order to minimize the risk of exposure or infection to the foetus.
- Once inside the bag, the foetus gets amniotic fluid, which has all the necessary nutrients to grow and protect it from infections. The water is constantly changed in order to keep it safe for the foetus. A cannula inside the Biobag acts as an umbilical cord as one in the maternal-fetal system, carrying all the necessary nutrients and oxygen to the baby. The success of the oxygenation process of the baby is highly dependent on the heart of the body and an oxygenator that are working together and are supposed to mimic normal maternal placental blood flow.
Artificial wombs for humans
- If we do reach a point in scientific discovery, where humans can actively choose to utilize or engage with artificial wombs, there stands to be a variety of moral and legal concerns that will need to be addressed thoroughly.
- There is something called the “14-day rule,” which is a law in 12 countries that basically limits all research on human embryos to a maximum period of 14 days and can’t be extended under any circumstance. This law was passed with effect in 1979 in a response to the successful birth of the world’s first in vitro fertilization baby.
- The 14-day rule has implications, both scientific and moral. It was created with an untimed knowledge of what humans can be capable of achieving at a given time. However, the advances including work relating to artificial wombs of gestational and embryonic science, make the rule seem practically obsolete or non-existent. As an outcome, a group of people is pushing for an extension to the legal limit of embryo-based research, while groups that attach moral implications of significance to these decisions are pushing back.
Advantages of an Artificial Womb
- It is very hard to disregard the moral and ethical implications of the advancement of an artificial womb. Irrespective of the development of technology, it can’t be further assumed as purely scientific advantages. Artificial wombs are often discussed in relation to prematurity of birth, but they could have additional applications to conception altogether.
It provides assistance with fetal development: This is useful during a premature birth. If any couple finds out that there needs to be an early delivery of the child, an artificial womb can be used in order to ensure the complete development of the foetus. This possibility has a higher impact on the age of viability, which currently is around 24 weeks.
It can also help in the initiation of fetal development: For people who don’t have functioning wombs or have been diagnosed with infertility, this technology can work wonders. It is feasible to grow a baby in an artificial womb, which would potentially provide a chance for a full gestation of the child.
It can also reduce fetal surgery implications: In current times, some fetal surgeries are hard or impossible to be performed until after the complete term delivery. In cases where it is medically necessary to perform surgery prematurely, an artificial womb may give the couple a chance for both complete gestation and term pregnancy.
According to standard norms, the age of viability is the age at which a fetus can survive the conditions outside of the womb with support, which is around 24 weeks. In the present scenario, the infants that are born before 22 weeks have very less or no chance of survival. Babies who are born preterm and have very narrowly crossed the viability line are prone to fatal complications that might result in lifelong disability or death. The statistics show that 50% of preterm born babies develop long-term ailments or disabilities.
The considerations in terms of ethics when it comes to the sustenance of life inside an incubator, as currently practiced, cannot be ignored completely. Several treatments lead to death or increase the suffering, in turn prolonging it or finally causing death. These reasons should be major contributors when deciding upon gestation, medical interventions or care.