As more and more women secure full-time jobs in the developed world, pregnancy is becoming increasingly inconvenient. In the future, artificial wombs may allow women to reject their innate maternal duties; bypass 9 months of discomfort; and avoid severe medical risks; as well as granting them more time to focus on their careers.
A female’s child-support systems (uterus, placenta, umbilical cord) provide a developing fetus with nutrient-rich blood and remove waste products. These processes can already be replicated artificially via medical machinery, as demonstrated by researchers who successfully supported sheep fetuses for up to 12 days in a completely artificial environment.
While this is amazing, it is worth noting that the sheep fetuses were already a few months old when they were transferred to the artificial environment. It is currently impossible to support early embryos via artificial environments. However with the current rate of advancement, it is conceivable that we will eventually be able to grow babies artificially, with the only human input into the process being sperm and egg cells. Instead of investing time and effort into a home-cooked meal, potential parents can enjoy a care-free, microwaved ready meal.
This cooking analogy provides an insight into why artificial wombs are a bad idea. Pregnancy is a deeply emotional journey for couples. The growing belly conveys a ticking countdown towards the birth of a child; the severe pain and discomfort offer bonding opportunities for all parties involved. With an artificial womb, there’s no bonding, no gradual buildup, no belly kicking, no post-birth tears of joy, no middle-of-the-night hospital journey. You give your sex cells to a lab and 9 months later they hand you a baby. There is no way that you will feel the same level of joy when you pick up that microwaved baby than you would have if it had been home-cooked: an arduous journey reaps the greatest rewards.
An easier life does not necessarily translate to a happier life. Several surveys have found that people’s levels of self-reported daily positive emotion were often higher in poorer countries. It seems as if people in developed countries are sacrificing raw emotional experience for an increase in perceived life satisfaction.
The future is in our hands, and we have to shape it in such a way that it will best benefit humanity in the long-term. We have to carefully consider each potential advancement before pursuing and implementing it.
Artificial wombs will come in useful as a tool to support serious medical difficulties, but should never substitute the beautiful process that is human pregnancy.