Wednesday, January 23, 2002

NOT BORN BUT GROWN: Or whatever that part in The Matrix is with the vast fields of babies. Anyway, the null device has the link to this Jeremy Rifkin piece in the LA Times about artificial wombs. Rifkin asks:

How would the end of pregnancy affect the way we think about gender and the role of women?

Years ago, the feminist writer Shulamith Firestone wrote enthusiastically about the prospect of an artificial womb: "Pregnancy is the temporary deformation of the body of the individual for the sake of the species. Moreover, childbirth hurts and isn't good for you. At the very least, development of an option should make possible an honest examination of the ancient value of motherhood."

Other feminists view the artificial womb as the final marginalization of women, robbing them of their primary role as progenitor of the species. The artificial womb, they argue, becomes the quintessential expression of male dominance, a mechanical substitute for the female womb honed to engineering standards and quality controls.

Armed with the artificial womb, asexual cloning technology and stem cells to produce all the extra body parts they need, men could free themselves, once and for all, from their dependency on women.

And, of course, freeing women from the obligation of being mothers. It's weird, I know Rifkin's supposed to be a real downer on biotech but he sort of doesn't take a firm stand on whether or not this is bad here. He talks up Brave New World as a literary warning but then references Francis Bacon for literary encouragement.

Null device also links to the Plastic discussion on this piece which speculates that an artificial womb would sort of move us past the abortion debate as we now know it, which opens with this comment:

Not discussed is the fact that this could throw a major monkey wrench into the abortion controversy and forever change its parameters. Some believe that the development of an artificial womb will lead to an entirely new rhetoric on the part of pro-lifers, who will argue that a woman's legal right to terminate a pregnancy does not equate with the right to destroy the fetus. Envision if you will the spectacle of, say, a million and a half unborn a year transferred by law to artificial wombs rather than destroyed -- orphans before they are even born, adding to the vast population of children awaiting adoption. (And just as likely to show up suddenly on the mother's doorstep in 20 years.) The prospect negates the whole concept of abortion, which is to avoid bringing unwanted children into the world in the first place, while nicely supporting pro-lifers' only concern (once the baby breathes its first breath, their job is done) and making even more ignorant and unrealistic their 'adoption, not abortion' mantra.

Discussion proceeds from there; not everybody is as harsh on the pro-life side as the above is. Fascinating stuff. Obviously such a technology would be way too pricey for years to come to have a chance of changing the abortion debate, but I can imagine it offering another option halfway between abortion and adoption. Of course, in the far flung future we'd probably have perfect birth control too.

No comments: