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The future of artificial wombs

02 July 2017
2 min read
Volume 25 · Issue 7


The news that scientists had managed to keep premature lambs alive in artificial wombs has launched a complex debate. George Winter examines the moral and technological issues at stake

In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), ectogenesis—growing embryos in artificial environments—thrives at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre. Here, ‘standardised’ individuals are grown in bottles on a conveyor belt ‘travelling at the rate of thirty-three and a third centimetres an hour.’ Later we learn that ‘The [ectogenesis] discoveries of Pfitzner and Kawaguchi were at last made use of,’ beginning ‘intensive propaganda against viviparous reproduction’.

For some, the recent news (Roberts, 2017) that Partridge et al (2017) had kept premature lambs alive in a ‘plastic bag’ womb invited the inference that human ectogenesis may soon be realising the grim portent evoked in Huxley's fiction. As Partridge et al (2017: 11) state: ‘[O]ur system offers an intriguing experimental model for addressing fundamental questions regarding the role of the mother and placenta in fetal development.’

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