Wednesday, August 13, 2003

ABORTION STUFF: Gene Expressor Razib points out this TNR article on ectogenesis by Sacha Zimmerman. Ectogenesis is like this:

Better known as the artificial womb, ectogenesis is the process by which a fetus gestates in an environment external to the mother. And, while it may sound like the stuff of science fiction--evoking images of the "decanted infants" in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World--researchers estimate that ectogenesis could be a reality within five years.

I'd have to be Charlie Murtaugh to have an informed opinion on that "five years" timetable, but it certainly sounds like we're pretty close to creating people outside the body:

Ectogenesis is close to becoming a reality because scientists are steadily advancing reproductive technology at both ends of gestation. At one end, to help women who are having difficulty conceiving or who have defective wombs, 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. What's more, Liu's team found that, within days of being placed in the new womb, embryos will attach themselves to its walls and begin to grow. At that point, scientists must end the experiment to comply with in-vitro fertilization (IVF) laws, so researchers do not yet know how long after the beginning stages of gestation this artificial womb would be viable. But Liu has said she hopes to "create complete artificial wombs using these techniques in a few years"--although, given current IVF and stem-cell laws, it is not yet clear whether she will be able to continue her work in the United States.

If this was a movie or something Dr. Liu and her crack team would say damn the authorities and produce their hideous frankenchildren in the dark of night in a secret sub-basement. This being the real world, Dr. Liu will probably move somewhere else to finish her research, like Godless keeps harping about. Now Razib--who never met an aspect of human life he couldn't put in evolutionary-fitness terms--says, re: the article, "It is discussed in the context of abortion rights, which I found rather uninteresting"--but jeez, that's the most interesting part:

While these scientists have no political agenda, the same can't be said for one of the earliest advocates of ectogenesis, Dr. William Cooper. In 1993, Cooper, then head of the Christian Fertility Institute, patented a "placental chamber," in which the fetus would gestate at the bottom of a tank and the placenta would rest on a shelf at the top. Cooper's invention went nowhere--today's advances toward ectogenesis owe nothing to the "placental chamber"--but his motivations for devising it are instructive: He hoped it would undermine Roe v. Wade.

Roe v. Wade, after all, 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. First, it could make Roe's viability issue moot, since with ectogenesis a fetus could be technically viable outside the mother's womb from the moment of conception.

Which would surely impact the other idea underpinning Roe: a woman's right to privacy. With ectogenesis, an unwanted fetus, rather than being aborted, could be removed from a woman and placed in an ectogenetic chamber to be adopted later; the woman's right to privacy would arguably not be invaded, since removal of the fetus for implantation in an artificial womb need not be any more invasive than the abortion she was originally seeking. As bioethicists Peter Singer and Deane Wells write of ectogenesis in their book Making Babies: The New Science and Ethics of Conception, "Freedom to choose what is to happen to one's body is one thing; freedom to insist on the death of a being that is capable of living outside of one's body is another."

Although many right-to-lifers are skeptical of reproductive technology in general and view ectogenesis as an unnatural and dehumanizing possibility, others recognize that it could radically alter the abortion debate. "Roe v. Wade should be repealed anyway," says Dr. W. David Hager, an obstetrician-gynecologist and professor at the University of Kentucky School of Medicine who currently serves as head of the Bush administration's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. "But, if we had the technology to be able to placentize or incubate in a placental environment, then I would say that would be an argument in favor of repeal."

Zimmerman goes on to call the five major pro-choice outlets (NOW, NARAL, etc.) and none of them has position one on ectogenesis, which means fringe weirdos have to defend abortion in an ectogenetic world:

Writing about ectogenesis in her book Human Reproduction: Principles, Practices, Policies, feminist philosopher Christine Overall argues that abortion is about the right not to procreate, not simply the right not to be pregnant. Overall claims that fetal extinction--not just extraction--is the aim of women seeking abortions and that forcing a woman to submit to a fetal extraction is like forcing her to donate organs against her will. The pregnant woman, Overall writes, is the "most appropriate person--perhaps the only one--to decide the disposition of the fetus." Extraction, extinction, disposition: Is this how the pro-choice movement wants their side of the debate to be framed in a post-ectogenesis world?

So you have a technology that renders abortion moot, plus, in the same article, slamming of organized pro-choice forces. Highly worth reading if you have an interest in the abortion debate. ZImmerman ends with:

Just consider the issue of viability: 41 states ban abortion after viability; if ectogenesis is achieved, will abortion then become illegal in each of those states? Many pro-lifers will certainly be prepared to argue yes. Isn't it about time pro-choicers start thinking of what they will say in response?

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