December 16, 2003
Ectogenesis, better known as the artificial womb, is the process by which a fetus gestates in an environment external to the mother. It could be a reality within five years. If and when that happens, the legal and philosophical premises underpinning Roe vs. Wade, says New Republic's Sacha Zimmerman, could be completely dismantled.
Ectogenesis is close to becoming a reality:
- Cornell University's Dr. Hung-Ching Liu has taken steps toward developing an artificial womb by removing cells from the lining of a woman's womb and then, using hormones, growing layers of these cells on a model of a uterus; the model eventually dissolves, leaving a new, artificial womb that continues to thrive.
- Temple University's Dr. Thomas Schaffer is trying to save premature babies by using a synthetic amniotic fluid; he developed a breathable liquid made of perfluorocarbons -- liquids that carry more oxygen than air -- and has successfully tested the fluid on premature lamb fetuses not yet capable of breathing air.
- In Japan, Dr. Yoshinori Kuwabara, a professor of obstetrics at Juntendo University, has actually created an artificial womb, using an acrylic tank filled with a fluid similar to Schaffer's amniotic fluid and attached to a machine that acts as a placenta to bring oxygen and nutrients to the fetus.
Roe v. Wade is predicated on two basic ideas: a woman's right to privacy (including the right not to be pregnant) and the viability of the fetus -- defined as the ability to survive outside the mother's womb, currently placed at 24 weeks of gestation. Complete ectogenesis could dismantle both of these premises, says Zimmerman.
Source: Sacha Zimmerman, "The real threat to Roe v. Wade: Fetal Position," New Republic, August 13, 2003.
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