With Artificial Wombs, Who Needs Women?

by Kallie Fell, Executive Director on March 19, 2021

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We buy genetic material from young men and women. We allow other women to carry our genetic children. We’ve eliminated the need for sex to create a child. Are we eliminating the need for a uterus, too? Are we trying to eradicate the need for women? 

According to a new publication in Nature, scientists in Israel are making moves to investigate mammalian embryogenesis (the formation of a fetus or baby) by growing mice outside of the female body, eliminating the need for a uterus. You might be thinking, “Don’t we already create human embryos out of the body for IVF? How is this different?” Well, these scientists were able to grow mice much longer outside the female body. These baby mice were starting to grow limbs and organs! 

Pushing boundaries in science is nothing new, and scientists around the world have been trying to create an artificial womb for some time. In 2017, researchers developed an artificial womb for lambs to stay alive outside of the mother’s body. They were able to do this by delivering a pre-term lamb, “the equivalent of a 23-week-old human baby”, via c-section and inserting tubes into the blood vessels in the umbilical cord. Researchers were able to keep a lamb alive outside of the mother’s body for 4 weeks. 

Of course, all of this research has been in animals, but we’re animals too, right? In my opinion, it’s only a matter of time until we start using these new technologies on humans, and it will be masqueraded as safe and helpful, ignoring the babies born from these experiments, just like egg donation and surrogacy.  The authors write, “The ability to remove a mammalian embryo from the uterine environment and grow it normally in controlled conditions constitutes a powerful tool.” Powerful and potentially dangerous. Thankfully some countries offer some safeguards.

One of those safeguards, in the United States and other countries, is the 14-day limit on human embryos. This limit keeps scientists from allowing human embryos to grow past 14 days outside of the womb or in a petri dish. This threshold is important because 14 days is the point at which a human embryo starts to form a body plan and the cells start to specialize or differentiate. An article published just this month suggests that this protective boundary on human life might be disregarded. The tides are changing and scientists are demanding more freedoms. Why would scientists want to keep human embryos alive for longer periods of time outside of the woman’s womb? For manipulation, experimentation, and to harvest tissue and organ cells. This is a new version of the stem cell and cloning debate over harvesting cells, tissues, and organs from nascent human life. 

In Israel, where they are experimenting on developing mice, there is a law banning reproductive cloning and there are a set of guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research, but these laws and guidelines do not address nor limit in vitro human embryo research1,2,3. For Israel, this makes the bridge from mice to humans more possible. The authors state it themselves, this may set the stage for expanding to “different mammalian species.”

Let’s finish with a math problem: what do you get when you add IVF with petri dishes and artificial wombs but subtract protective guidelines? Human experimentation and the instrumentalization of women’s bodies.

  1. (Israel) Public Health Regulations (Extra-Corporeal Fertilization), KT (1987) 5035 p. 978(1987). www.gov.il/he/Departments/DynamicCollectors/gazette-official?skip=0&limit=10&BookletNum=5035&FolderType=3&PublishDate_to=1988-01-01Google Scholar
  2.  (Israel) Prohibition on Genetic Intervention (Human Cloning and Genetic Change in Reproductive Cells) Law, SH (1999, Amended 2016) 1697, p. 47.Google Scholar
  3.  (Israel) Egg Donation Law SH (2010) 2242 p. 520 (2010). https://fs.knesset.gov.il/18/law/18_lsr_300729.pdfGoogle Scholar

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