Exciting new developments in development

I’m very excited to have stumbled across this article, which talks about tests being done with extremely premature lambs transferred to artificial wombs. While the tests were done with lambs, it is quite easy to see how this could benefit human neonates – premature babies.

While (the first link) is titled about how the new technology ‘undermines abortion’ – which is something that the referred to bioethicist discusses – I’m very excited about the potentials that this technology brings, as it has great positive potentials for both medical reasons and societal reasons. (For my previous articles on my science-based observations against the ‘blob of cells’ lie, see Moral and Informed Choices and Let There Be Light, the latter of which is a scientific observation of what occurs at the moment of conception.)

First, this is fantastic potential for expectant parents who have had their children born too soon, ‘before viability’ – they now have a chance at life and being saved, and could be put on life support. Doctors wouldn’t have the excuse any more to claim that this child is not viable; and as technology progresses, this line could be moved further and further back (as I have predicted previously.) There may be a point in time where true artificial wombs will come to be, which could then benefit infertile couples and/or homosexual couples without the need for a surrogate mother (which could then eliminate the battles and troubles regarding surrogacy.) What effect this might have on the development of the baby itself (the baby does hear and develop quite a bit as an individual from things like what the mother’s voice is like, the mother’s heartbeat, what she eats, etc) could and likely will be of some concern,* but that is neither here nor now. For the moment, this new technology is a much-needed one to save the lives of wanted children, a lifeboat, so to speak, that will help the the extremely premature move to the greater viability stages of development. Protection of the extreme neonate from the external environment’s demands, which the neonate is unable to withstand by itself, has had surprising discoveries – like the ‘sandwich bag solution‘. Kangaroo care has been seen as very beneficial to the prematurely born baby, and is most famously known for reviving the stillborn son of Kate and David Ogg. (Yes, I am aware that the little boy was very likely to have only stopped breathing a very, very short time before; the procedure would not be beneficial to those babies who had passed well after the brain-death stage of time limits.)

Further, this gives a great potential option for babies who need to be born prematurely; such as c-sections required because the mother has severe pre-eclampsia or other medical issues that could threaten the health of both mother and the child, avoiding the tragedy of having to choose between one’s life and one’s child. While I do not think it would be possible, at present for this to apply to ectopic pregnancies, it certainly could apply to women whose babies can be moved to the new form of life support.

Secondly, this gives a third option for those children who are unwanted, or are wanted by the non-gestating parent – ergo, fathers. Women now have the potential to have their cake (to choose to no longer be pregnant, abort their pregnancy) without the death of the child being necessary (and metaphorically have that cake without guilt). This has a number of secondary benefits that the abortion industry is unwilling to acknowledge – that a number of women who have had abortions have mental health problems post-abortion. This has great appeal to me, not ‘just because it doesn’t kill the baby’, but because it has great potential in showing care and love to the woman who chooses to no longer carry the child. A great source of the emotional trauma comes from the knowledge that a child was killed, no matter the claims of the abortion industry; and it’s always struck me as one of the unacknowledged tragedies of abortion that the woman who blindly followed the abortion propaganda line hurts later on once she realises what she has chosen. Regardless of the official byline, there are women who are indeed physically, psychologically, mentally and emotionally harmed by abortion (I am all for women making as informed a decision as possible, either for pregnancy or abortion! You cannot have a ‘right to choose’ if you do not understand what you are choosing). While this is merely my opinion, it may be that a woman who chooses to give up her child instead to survive via artificial womb will have less of the guilt and grief; choosing life gives the option of perhaps finding that child later on. Death, in this case, is irreversible. Thus, choosing to abort while giving the child life is a far more humane and ethical option to both the woman and the child. While it is best ideal if the woman who chooses this option also surrenders her parental rights in perpetuity, there could be a pathway allowing for the child and any adoptive parents to choose to meet the biological mother in the future, if they so wish.

This option also means that there is now a way for the woman to choose to no longer be pregnant, while also giving the biological father the way to be able to keep his child alive. Remember that while it is always touted as ‘the woman’s right to choose’ it takes two to have sex, and make the baby. Abortion affects not just the woman and the child; but affects men too. A man who wants to have the child could possibly now offer the option of the artificial womb, so that the woman no longer has to ‘be forced to continue a pregnancy she does not want.’ Ethically, this means that the woman in question would also surrender her parental rights in perpetuity, and ideally should not have any say in how the child is raised if the father claims the child. While usually framed as solely a woman’s issue, this new technology paves the way to illustrating that abortion is, in fact, a human issue, a problem that affects not just the woman, but all the people involved – the woman, the man, and the child (who has no choices in the matter of being conceived and must simply be the victim of consequence!) This way, men’s issues regarding abortion and the death of their children are addressed in a way that lessens significantly, if not completely the impact on the lives of women that do not wish to be pregnant, regardless of the reasons that the woman has. While it is true that there are males who would rather not ‘be saddled with a child’, there are also those who would welcome fatherhood, even single fatherhood, if given the chance and the choice.

Lastly, and, perhaps, the most important of all, this possibly gives the option of a child to life – as they are the most innocent victims of all in this, having no ability to choose their fates. There are already stories of abortion survivors, and indeed, a need to protect the infants who have survived their abortions from infanticide. Let mothers who cannot continue their pregnancies due to unfortunate circumstances have a different choice from death. Let survivors have instead “My biological mother chose to let me live, even if she chose not to continue her pregnancy,” as part of their story. (Contrary to the claims, the bill that I did find a link to is quite clear on definitions.)

Legal changes would have to come to pass, of course; but it may be that in this case the law is the thing that must adapt. The Born Alive Abortion Protection Act was passed – thank goodness – but indeed, with the potential that the new life support technology brings, there will be greater discussion necessary, especially with regard to parental rights, ethics and medical responsibility. IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer) is in effect, but for purposes of discussion, let us explore some options that could hypothetically become available. Bear in mind, before anyone gets angry with me that these are only hypothetical and the discussion purely academic at present. We do NOT know what the technology will be like for when it is human-viable usage. By continuing to read on, you agree to surrender your ‘right’ to be outraged.

Would a biological parent choosing to terminate the pregnancy still have parental rights? I think, in this case ‘no’ – unless the parent changes their mind prior to the procedure. This would not apply to those who need to avail of the method for medically necessary reasons. Note that I used the gender-neutral term biological parent – contrary to what most people think, this actually levels the field with regard to the sexes; as the burdens of gestation is moved to a neutral support. Similarly, I think that a man who decides against being a parent should not have any financial or parental responsibility, contrary to the current method of suing for child support (which is one of the reasons why there are men who attack pregnant women with the intent of killing the child.) Similarly, if there is no male presence in the decision-making, it is possible for the woman to still surrender her parental rights by choosing to terminate the pregnancy and undergoing the procedure to have the fetus transferred to the life support. The child would then be a ward of the state similar to a child waiting for adoption.

This gives the biological father a say in the life of the child should the biological mother choose to terminate the pregnancy. One of the current problems with abortion at present is that it completely ignores paternal rights because ‘the woman is the one who carries the child.’ However, since ‘women don’t get pregnant via photosynthesis or mitosis’, there is a valid argument still for joint responsibility and decision-making. As the artificial womb option removes the woman’s necessity in being the one to continue the pregnancy, the biological father can now have some of his rights and ability to make decisions regarding his child, especially if he is willing to shoulder all the responsibility, financial and otherwise, from that point on. This is something that is currently not an option until the child has been born; but might be a possibility later. However, it does come with its’ own issues.

At present, the method for transfer requires surgery and a certain gestational age to be reached. This is a bit of a sticking point, because regardless of which method is taken (abortion with death of fetus, or abortion with transfer of fetus) there is a surgical / medical procedure involved. At current present experimental stage, the procedure of transfer also requires that the fetus be a certain gestational age. This would require that the woman 1) agree to medical procedure and 2) wait for the gestational age to be reached. I do not think that the courts should be able to force the woman to do either; persuasion is better (presenting the transfer procedure as a more ethical, and ultimately healthier for the woman both medically and in terms of mental health, for example), or perhaps a compensation agreement be put forth. In this the choice is still up to the woman, up to a certain extent (state limits on abortion per gestational age exist, as discussed below.)

Currently the legal gestational age limit for abortion is around 22-25 weeks; as we have seen, advances in medical technology have already brought about arguments regarding fetal viability and the resulting abortion limit be brought down, as well as changes in medical terminology regarding miscarriage or stillbirth -the ramifications are not just legal, after all, but these are things that can be addressed by the flexibility of adaptation within the scientific and medical community.

Inevitably the line of viability changes as medical technology regarding neonate life support improves; which is ultimately what will change the limitations on abortion. As addressed by Cohen in his article, viability is the line for which abortion limits have been based, and that can and will change. Further,

Except under special circumstances (such as when abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother), the state is free to completely prohibit abortion after the viability point, whereas it faces a more demanding test in imposing pre-viability restrictions. How would an artificial womb inflect the states ability to regulate pregnancy under existing law?
One possibility is that the state may, as before, prohibit abortion outright only after viability but that it may require transfer to an artificial womb instead of abortion for women between eighteen weeks and viability. A second possibility is that artificial wombs would change our understanding of viability. That is, while an eighteen-week-old fetus would not be viable under the traditional definition of viability, we may understand it as viable once transfer to an artificial womb was possible; therefore, the state could prohibit both the transfer to an artificial womb and the abortion at eighteen weeks. A third possibility is an expansion of postviability pregnancy rights—that states that would have prohibited abortion outright after viability would now be forced at least to allow women to transfer the fetus to the artificial womb as an alternative.

He also rightly notes the way that this new technology would change in terms of implementation of law would depend on how invasive a procedure we are talking about. One imagines at least a c-section, given the size of the baby at that stage. (The one page article more succinctly describes the legal changes we may be facing; and is after some thought, very neutral and readable.) However, it is unlikely that a woman could protest that there be ‘no invasive procedure’ at all, as a number of the most commonly used abortion procedures are invasive; especially the further along one is in the pregnancy.

Ultimately at the last, he states:

Part of what makes all of this so hard is that, both legally and ethically (think of Judith Jarvis Thomsons seminal article), the abortion right has been most vigorously defended as a right not to be a gestational parent, not as a right not to be a legal or genetic parent. That is, the right enjoyed by women is a right to stop gestating, not a right to end the existence of the fetus. The artificial womb would allow women to exercise the first right without the second. Defending a right to abortion when transfer is possible would change the moral terrain—unless my argument about invasiveness works. “My body, my choice” would instead become a right to terminate the life of the fetus. A defense along these lines could still be possible on the philosophical level, but seems a much harder sell legally and politically.

Further, it should be noted that the argument to terminate something acknowledges that the thing that is to be terminated exists – the baby in the womb. To argue that the woman has the right to kill her child is not ethically presentable, as it then opens up that any woman has the ‘right’ to kill her children at any point in time, even after the child is born (see the arguments about born alive abortion survivors, for example.) If an alternative is presented then indeed the ethics of the matter changes entirely.

Ultimately though, the truly ethical decision would be one that would in the long run give the woman the right to terminate her pregnancy without killing the child – a solution that is now, at least, potentially within near-future medical technological development.

*addendum quoting a comment from the article’s discussion section:

As an RN ( and I know online declarations of expert knowledge are useless, ask any Nigerian Prince ) the development of a child involves passage of hormones and genetic material back and forth from mother to baby during pregnancy. Biofeedback mechanisms monitor and adjust placental conditions in ways we do not yet fully understand. Mothers feel cravings due to nutrient needs of the child which are communicated chemically. Some resistance to disease is passed on after fertilization and possibly to environmental factors too while genetic information from the child can be found in the mom’s bloodstream providing progress updates on fetal development in the cellular level. This is the product of millions of years of evolution and you don’t fix what ain’t broke!
We just don’t know all the details and this technology is more an emergency lifeboat for premature babies than healthy human alternative.

The human reproductive and gestational system is indeed very complex, and I agree that at present we do not have all the information we need, that the technology being discussed is at present really the next step in neonatal life support and care. Notably this has not stopped genetic manipulation (look up ‘three parent babies’ for further reading)

2 thoughts on “Exciting new developments in development

  1. Mary

    I have seen women argue that since the removal had to be performed on their bodies, they had the right to demand that the baby die in the process.

    1. R.K. Modena Post author

      I’ve seen that argument too; mostly the ones who argue for it do not see the baby as an individual, separate being with it’s own unique genetic code and indeed, personality; they see pregnancy as a cancer. Those sorts also tend to be exceedingly self-centred, even towards people who already are born.

      That particular subcategory know very well what they are killing, and are unlike the misinformed who believe, through a mix of non-education and falsely presented ‘facts’ that any abortion before (insert legal limit here) is ‘just a bunch of cells.’ (Watch the reaction of the latter if they ever, ever see the results of a 13 week abortion.)

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