Encyclopedia of Reproductive Technologies

By Annette Burfoot | Go to book overview
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The word "ectogenesis" was coined in 1924by the British biologist J.B.S. Haldane. It refers to the prospect of growing a human fetus to term totally outside a woman's womb. The development of in vitro fertilization to treat infertility, combined with ever more sophisticated neonatal intensive care of premature babies, makes development of an artificial womb seem possible. Researchers in Japan have recently developed the means to keep goat and lamb fetuses that are near full gestation alive ex utero.

But should ectogenesis be further developed? Peter Singer, a prominent Australian bioethicist, and Deane Wells, a member of the Australian Parliament, defend ectogenesis as both a way to save aborted fetuses and a way to treat infertility. Many writers, including Singer and Wells, connect ectogenesis with abortion. Assuming that the right to an abortion is a right to be free of an unwanted pregnancy, not a right to the death of one's fetus, the idea is that ectogenesis would make it possible to reconcile survival of the fetus with the right to abortion on demand. Thus, many believe, ectogenesis resolves the conflict between a woman's right to choose abortion and her fetus's right to life by allowing both to be exercised.

The main problem with this argument may be seen once abortions and fetal transplants are clearly distinguished. Over 90 percent of abortions are performed in the first trimester of pregnancy using vacuum aspiration. The aspirator uses suction to extract the fetus, which at this point in pregnancy is just a few centimeters long. Such an early abortion is safe, but the fetus does not emerge intact from the uterus. A fetal transplant would be more like a cesarean section than a first-trimester vacuum-


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Encyclopedia of Reproductive Technologies
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