by Judy Dutton
Love babies, hate pregnancy? Then you're in luck: Scientists recently announced thatartificial wombs will be a viable option in 20 years and widely available in 30. Birthing babies outside a mother's body is called ectogenesis. The technology has actually been around since 2001, when researchers at Cornell University grew sheets of endometrial tissue, then fashioned them into a uterus. Human embryos were even grown successfully inside but had to be removed due to laws stating it's illegal to grow humans in a lab. Still, these developments suggest it may only be a matter of time before this sci-fi scenario becomes all too real.
When I first heard the news that artificial wombs may soon be available, I wanted to dance a jig. Pregnancy, after all, is a drag. First, you can't keep lunch down, then you outgrow your clothes, then after nine months of discomfort, you endure the most painful experience known to womankind, AKA birth. And even today, hundreds of women and babies still die due to complications during labor. What woman in her right mind wouldn't think it would be nice to avoid all that?
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Then, of course, there are many women who'd like to have kids but can't due to infertility or old age; artificial wombs would give them an option other than surrogacy or adoption. Plus, career-minded women who are leery of pregnancy slowing them down on the job could outsource their gestational duties to artificial stand-ins. That way they could go full throttle at the office without the risk of doctor-mandated bed rest and other interruptions that could throw a wrench in their work.
All told, artificial wombs seem like a good thing for women, freeing our bodies from the heavy burden of pregnancy and our minds from worries about our biological clocks. Heck, we could even celebrate the big baby news with a glass of champagne. Wouldn't that be nice?
Only the very problems that artificial wombs solve might present new ones. For example: Since they could relieve a woman's body from pregnancy-related complications, might employers demand that moms use them to avoid a dip in worker productivity? And if women can have kids at any age, might some moms put off child rearing until the eleventh hour and decide to "have" a baby in their 60s?
If anything might give us a glimpse of how much the cultural landscape could change, consider the social impact of the Pill. Suddenly, women didn't have to worry if they'd get pregnant; they could jump in bed with abandon! Sure, this ruffled feathers and offended large swaths of Americans. But it also allowed women to delay both marriage and motherhood, focus on their careers, and gain a new foothold toward financial independence. And these are good developments, ones that are taken for granted today.
Perhaps artificial wombs will take those trends one step further, allowing women to hold off on marriage and motherhood even longer and become professionally and financially stronger than ever. It may cause some hand wringing at first, but in my mind, if it were truly bad for families, women wouldn't do it. At the end of a day, it's just one more choice. And I trust that moms will make the right decision.
Would you use an artificial uterus to have kids?
Image © Matthias Kulka/Corbis