University of Cambridge > > Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science > Brave new future: a realistic ELSI of ectogestation

Brave new future: a realistic ELSI of ectogestation

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The idea of full ectogenesis – the complete extracorporeal development of human mammals from zygote to baby – has a prominent place in the popular imagination. From Sci Fi literature (Brave New World) to the radical reimagining of second wave feminists (Firestone), it tends to be seen as a promise of extremes: either Utopia or Dystopia; threat or liberation; but in any case importantly linked to the rights, position and idea of woman in society. The bioethical literature has happily gone along with this, repeatedly declaring the imminent arrival of ‘artificial wombs’, spawning a flurry of articles that are direct descendants of these earlier imaginaries. The most recent flurry was spawned by a 2017 article in Nature reporting the successful maturation of extremely premature lambs in extracorporeal uterine-like sacks.

However: full ectogenesis is not around the corner. What may be around the corner is the replacement and – hopefully – improvement of current neonatal technologies by systems that mimic the conditions in the womb and preserve mammals in a fetal state. That development poses important philosophical, ethical, legal and social questions. These are mostly different from those posed by full ectogenesis (though the rights, position and idea of woman in society remains an important theme), but are currently eclipsed by the overwhelming focus on futuristic ‘babies in bottles’ scenarios. This paper attempts to give a realistic view of the possibilities (and limits!) of possibly imminent technological revolution; set out a realistic social ethical research agenda, and perhaps even offer some answers.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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