Can a child be born without a pregnant mother? It is a permanent question in the minds of the Ectogenesis researchers, an emerging field of science, but quickly beyond ideas on paper.
Reproductive technology, particularly in vitro fertilization (IVF) , has grown to the point of helping a child born without a father to fertilize directly. But IVF still needs a pregnant mother.
Ectogenesis , the term for ectopic pregnancy , is a far more breakthrough step, eliminating the mother's pregnancy role. If this technology is successfully developed, people just need to put the oocyte and sperm into the incubator to create a new child.
Imagine a future where women no longer suffer from morning sickness, do not have to take maternity leave and, of course, are not in pain and sometimes risk their lives to give birth, but still acquire children with Ectogenesis technology:
A future, when women don't need to be pregnant - Artez Product Design Arnhem.
In a hypothetical future in 2051, a machine called Par-ri-ri helped the couple George and Martha conceive their first child, Robin. It is a " hands-free " pregnancy process, because the baby is not really in the mother's belly. As you can see, Martha can still go to work, normal activities, even drink alcohol.
The idea of a machine like Paris has begun to be rekindled in scientific publications since the 1920s. Backwards, the term Ectogenesis - ectopic pregnancy - first introduced by John Burdon Sanderson Haldane, an English Indian physiologist and geneticist.
Haldane mentioned the idea of an ectopic pregnancy in an essay called " Daedalus or science and the future ". Since 1923, he has confidently predicted that humans will develop an artificial uterus in 2051. By 2073, up to 70% of children in the UK will be born with this technology.
Haldane's idea became one of the inspirations for Aldous Huxley to write Brave New World in 1932, about a futuristic future world in which identical children were born from an incubator. Super big body in the heart of London.
Or a closer example is the Wachowski sisters' Matrix in 1999, about a world controlled by artificial intelligence. In that world there are fields with millions of cocoon-like uterus. Soaking in it are people locked up from small to big, in a virtual reality and never really born.
Come here, you may think our story has gone too far. But in fact, the artificial uterus is not only in fictional and cinematic works that are fanciful. This technology has been realized out of Haldane's crumpled pieces of paper.
After nearly a century of research, scientists have reached the most recent milestone in 2017, with two experiments successfully feeding premature sheep in a biological fluid bag called EVE.
EVE bags are a simple version of artificial uterus, which contains a sterile liquid similar to amniotic fluid. EVE allows the fetus, here the sheep, to breathe through the umbilical cord and absorb nutrients naturally.
Premature sheep at 105-115 of sheep pregnancy - equivalent to human 23/39 week of pregnancy. At this time, they should not leave the womb without fully developing the nervous system and internal organs.
Typically, the lungs, lambs or babies are too young to breathe normally. Up to half of them will die, and 90% of miraculous survivors will grow up with permanent sequelae like chronic lung disease.
EVE appears now as a perfect device, helping sheep to complete their pregnancy. They are observed with normal growth in the artificial uterus, can swallow, move, open eyes, grow hair, and are born after 1 month.
" Currently premature babies need a device, which plays an intermediary role between the womb of the mother and the outside world ," said Dr. Alan Flake, director of the Center for Fetal Research at the Children's Institute of Philadelphia. know in 2017.
" Our [artificial uterus] system can prevent dangerous diseases that premature babies face. This is a medical technology that has never been present at the present time."
Dr. Flake promised within 5 years, the team will create an artificial uterus for humans. At that time, it will be used as a substitute for incubators, helping to save the unfortunate children of premature babies.
The image of a stirling lamb in EVE makes many people imagine the cocoons in the Matrix. Indeed, replacing incubators for premature babies is just one of EVE's development directions.
There is a medical, psychological and moral argument at the moment, whether or not we should develop this technology into complete artificial wombs, to help a fetus right from the start. The head did not need to be in the belly of a mother.
In 2013, after a year of dating before marrying Kanye West, Kim Kardashian gave birth to a colored rapper, a daughter, North West. During the pregnancy of their first child at the age of 33, doctors discovered that Kim had pre-eclampsia and had another set of teeth - a dangerous condition that occurred when the placenta invaded and could not be separated from the uterus. supply.
Both of these diseases can be life threatening for Kim and the baby in the abdomen. If pre-eclampsia is not followed, the mother's blood pressure will rise, convulsions, impaired liver function. Meanwhile, each set of combs can lead to hemorrhage at birth with an unavoidable death rate (despite the best medical care) of 7%.
That is also the reason that North was born prematurely. Kim described her day of labor, calling it the most painful experience of her life: " Doctors have to stick their arms around me, separate the placenta by hand, shave it off my womb with my fingernails. It's terrible and painful! My mother cried, she never witnessed something like that happening to her daughter . "
After the North birth, Kim underwent two more surgeries to remove the remaining scar tissue from the uterus. The doctors warned her not to become pregnant anymore, but in 2015, Kim defied, still trying to give birth to his son Saint West.
Although under careful medical supervision, the condition of the placenta again causing complications, it caused the uterus to puncture a hole. Fortunately, the Saint boy was born healthy. The thing is, when doctors try to do surgery to heal Kim's uterus, they fail.
Kim could no longer conceive the next child, but both she and West wanted North and Saint to have more brothers. In 2017, they decided to artificial insemination and freeze embryos, a girl, a boy then find the right person to be pregnant with.
Surrogacy is the procedure of transplanting a couple's fertilized egg into another woman's uterus. This allowed the child to be born with both parents' genes, and only "stay in " for nine months in another woman's abdomen.
This procedure is now accepted in many countries, including Vietnam, if the purpose of a pregnancy is humanitarian. It allows cases such as Kim to have children safely, ensuring the lives of both the mother and the baby.
In 2018, Chicago, Kim and West's third child was born through a pregnant pregnancy. In early May this year, the couple also welcomed their youngest child, a girl named Psalm, thanks to this measure.
The success of the pregnant method has partly demonstrated the prospect of 2051 by George and Martha. A child can be born outside the body of a biological mother. It really helped West and Kim to free their hands, could still run the show and go to Chicago and Psalm events in the belly of another woman.
But the most important thing that this reproductive technique does is that it saved Kim's life and the baby itself, if she continued to get pregnant when she had pre-eclampsia and had each set of combs.
Every year, there are about 29,000 deaths worldwide in pre-eclampsia. Synthesis of all complications during pregnancy and labor pushes the figure up to 350,000 - 500,000.
These deaths are only for mothers, not to mention whether the child is dead or facing any health conditions if they are born prematurely.
Scientists in favor of Ectogenesis artificial uterine technology argue that we can improve all these terrible numbers if EVE is developed - from a liquid-filled nylon bag to a bio-machine real child.
That will allow couples like Kim and West in the future to no longer risk their own lives, or push that risk to another woman to have children properly .
" Future social beliefs will come to mind: Pregnancy - especially childbirth - is a very complex and risky activity, " writes Matt Chessen, a scientific author. on Wired.
" Creating a child inside another person is dangerous. The health of the child is dependent on the physical safety of the mother, when the mother still has to work in her world. The fetus is susceptible to infection, nutritional care and many other threats ".
So what is the solution, instead of signing a contract with a hired woman, why not do it with a " baby factory ", with machine-fed incubators and uterus Your pregnancy is available, until they become a healthy child?
The babies will be kept in transparent amniotic fluid, with a feeding tube and oxygen supply through the navel, cables to monitor every biomarker in that tiny body, ensuring it grows in a way. perfect.
Every beat in the heart, every kick into the pool wall, every moment of the fetus' life is carefully recorded, to take care of the child in the best way, ever since it was a zygote until the moment of birth.
Putting the safety and health of the fetus, as well as the mothers' first - doctors can be the first to be happy if the artificial uterine technology is successfully developed. But they will not be the only ones.
Since 1985, some philosophers like Peter Singer have begun to think about freeing women from reproductive pressure. " I think women will get help, instead of being hurt, because of the development of a technology that helps them have children without getting pregnant, " he said.
Singer's vision reiterated the opinion of Shulamith Firestone, an American feminist in 1970: " Once we liberate women from biological tyranny related to childbirth, they are new. achieve full equality compared to men ".
In the past, men used to dominate political, economic, social and scientific life. But today, we have begun to have more female doctors, female lawyers, scientists, engineers and even female politicians.
When women are smarter, better educated and more independent, pregnancy becomes a huge opportunity cost (they lose wages, lose productivity, lose learning opportunities , promotion). Rarely do women reach the peak of their career if they get caught up in being a mother.
An artificial uterus can clearly lead to an absolute gender equality in the future. Over time, this technology can destroy the gender hierarchy in current society.
We will have governing boards, political parties with equal gender ratios, when women have a burden of pregnancy and childbirth in an incubator.
Even on the other side, some women may crave having children at this time but cannot. This suggests that the artificial uterus is a common solution for many problems.
We are referring to transgender women or gay couples, they may be able to have children if they have an artificial uterus and transfer embryonic stem cells into egg cells.
A machine that nourishes the fetuses will also be the solution to the abortion problem. We recognize abortion rights, along with the laws of many countries including Vietnam, allowing mothers to terminate their pregnancy before 22 weeks of age.
But abortion is currently causing persistent moral, religious and legal debates, while 42 million cases are still being done every year in the world. Wouldn't it be better, if these little abandoned babies were removed from the mother's womb, to put in a machine that could nurture them into people?
So an artificial uterus machine will solve a lot of problems: help infertile couples have children, including gay and transgender couples; save half a million mothers who die each year during pregnancy and childbirth; 42 million newborns were destroyed before birth; absolute equality between men and women .
But just like when you are afraid of a future like Matrix, childbirth machines also pose new and complex problems. The first concern is whether this technology is damaging maternal love, which seems to have begun from the pregnancy process?
Charles Krauthammer, an American journalist who raised this issue in a Conference on Bioethics:
" Why do we want and will want an embryo to be placed on the mother's abdomen? One of the reasons is that this will create an innate connection between the child and the mother and the mother when she becomes into a person who is unique and protective for the child, that is the nature of the person, even the nature of all animals ".
A technology such as an artificial uterus can sever motherhood , in Krauthammer's conception: " Once you put a fetus on a machine in the future, you will create a completely independent creature and not protected, opening the way for a world that we do not want to see with tyrannical people, lack of autonomy and domineering ".
Professor Rosemarie Tong, a leading ethicist at the University of North Carolina, agrees: "I think an artificial uterus can turn the entire pregnancy process into a commodity. When we spread it. pregnancy experience out of the body, the children will grow up like an object ".
Artificial wombs can weaken the link between parents and children in general. The nature of the pregnancy process brings a connection to the next generation. When that process does not happen inside the human body, cohesion between generations will become much more vague and fragile.
What Professor Tong worries about doesn't stop there. He also said that carrying the fetus from the mother's body, seeing it directly in the glass cage, would urge the desire to impact and improve these babies.
The choice of embryos itself to include artificial wombs allows us to choose the sex for them. Today, sophisticated surgical operations also allow us to perform procedures right on the fetus that are still in the womb.
What will happen next, when the children are right in front of us, pointing through a glass layer? Is there somewhere, at some point, a scientist who is tempted and wants to do something with the child, turning it into a superman by editing genes?
Taking a child out of the mother's abdomen itself can totally change the way people evolve. We know that the mother's uterus and pelvis have suppressed our skull size.
In the past few centuries, when the technique of caesarean section has been performed more and more often, scientists have actually observed an increase in the size of the fetal skull. The same thing happens if children are developed in an artificial uterus, and what more phenomena are there? We don't know for sure!
Unlike two genetically modified children that were actually born in China in 2018, until now, no child can live and was born from an artificial uterus.
But it seems that just like genetic modification technology, scientists are worried that the artificial uterus could be born sooner than expected and surprise humanity. Dr. Carlo Bulletti, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology from Yale University predicts: A fully functional device to grow embryos will appear within the next 10 years.
It will be a UV-resistant glass container, containing gelatin protein liquid. The fetus will live in this artificial uterus thanks to the blood extracted from the mother itself, provided with oxygen from artificial lungs and circulated with a machine heart, as well as dialysis with artificial kidneys.
Dr. Bulletti said the machine will first be tested with a human-sized animal similar to humans.
While Dr. Alan Flake, who developed the EVE device for sheep, said his team is approaching a human experiment in 2023 or 2024, a group of scientists from Cambridge University. was able to maintain human embryos living in vitro until the 13th day, maybe even longer, if they did not actively destroy this embryo because the law did not allow human embryos to be fed until the 14th day.
From now on until the artificial womb technology is perfected, scientists, ethics and lawmakers will have to argue very strongly to solve a series of questions:
Can the artificial uterus be able to replace the mother's pregnancy role? Does it help women achieve absolute equality with men, or vice versa, causing their role in society to be shaken?
What will happen to a child born from a machine and not a mother? If in the process of running that machine, a couple divorced, who will be able to hold the child?
Can people face the future like Brave New World or Matrix ? Will artificial uterine technology affect our evolution?
Over 40 years ago, we also had to ask similar questions with in vitro fertilization (IVF). Since then, more than 5 million children have been born with this reproductive technology.
So what can happen in 40 years? Perhaps Haldane's prediction came true, would we have 5 million babies born outside women 's bodies in the 1960s and 70s of this century?
It is impossible to predict what will happen in such a society, but surely, we will have to prepare for a lot of turmoil that will happen in that era, when the children are no longer born from mother's womb.