January 29, 2012
Here is contrarian bioethics at its best. Pregnancy and childbirth are so painful, risky and socially restrictive for women that public funding should urgently be directed to the development of artificial wombs. This is the only way to achieve true equality between men and women for then neither women nor men would then be limited by having children and the burdens of reproducing the species would be shared equally.
This is the radical suggestion made by a leading British bioethicist, Anna Smajdor, of the University of East Anglia.
Artificcial gestation, or ectogenesis, is currently science fiction, but it may be possible. Dr Smajdor believes that in a truly liberal society pregnancy and childbirth should not be tolerated:
Changes to financial and social structures may improve things marginally, but a better solution needs to be found. Either we view women as baby carriers who must subjugate their other interests to the well-being of their children or we acknowledge that our social values and level of medical expertise are no longer compatible with “natural” reproduction.
Pregnancy is barbaric, Dr Smajdor contends – an illness so serious that it is comparable to measles, which is also occasionally fatal, but does not last nine months.
I suggest that there is a strong case for prioritizing research into ectogenesis as an alternative to pregnancy. I conclude by asking the reader the following: if you did not know whether you would be a man or a woman, would you prefer to be born into Society A, in which women bear all the burdens and risks of pregnancy, or Society B, in which ectogenesis has been perfected.
Her article in the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics is a reply to a critique of an article which she published in 2007, “The moral imperative for ectogenesis”. ~ Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, January