Neo.Life: A Womb with a View

Bio bags, robotic preemies, artificial wombs, and the coming revolution in postnatal care to save babies born too soon.

Premature birth is one of the leading causes of infant death worldwide, killing more than a million babies every year. Some 15 million infants are born prematurely every year, and many of those who survive face severe, lifelong health problems because of it, including cerebral palsy, vision and hearing issues, learning disabilities, and developmental delays. 

Improving outcomes for premature babies is a cornerstone World Health Organization Millennium Development Goal, and helping save babies’ lives in extreme cases is the incentive to a number of teams of scientists around the world for improving incubators, or what they are now calling “artificial wombs,” to better support preemies born at 28 weeks or before, and even as early as 21 weeks. 

More recently, total ectogenesis has also been considered as a way for two gay men or a transgender woman to have a baby without a surrogate, an industry known for female exploitation. 

The idea of an artificial womb immediately conjures up the idea of total ectogenesis, the concept of taking a fertilized egg at a very early stage of cell division and gestating it in an artificial womb to full term. 

While this concept has been around since the 1950s, and scientists in Sweden, Japan, and Canada have all made attempts at models, no one to date has achieved total ectogenesis. It mostly exists in the imagination of science fiction writers and feminist bioethicists who argue that outsourcing pregnancies could improve gender equality since pregnancy is still viewed by many as a disability, and often can be when a new mother gets sick and can’t work, or has to go on bed rest to protect her growing child.  More recently, total ectogenesis has also been considered as a way for two gay men or a transgender woman to have a baby without a surrogate, an industry known for female exploitation. 

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