Carrying and birthing a baby fundamentally changes a woman’s body. Her womb must expand, her midsection stretches, her breasts may grow or shrink, she may lose hair, her hips will widen, her abdominal muscles may separate, and the muscles of her bladder could weaken. The nine-month period of pregnancy plus the added postpartum time period and responsibilities of being a new mother can seem intimidating.
In a society heavily influenced by feminism, it’s not uncommon for women to feel wary about conceiving and carrying a child to full term. And, as sentiments shift, science responds. Recent scientific strides are starting to confirm the predictions that someday in the near future, humans won’t even need sperm or a woman’s womb to create human life. Don’t get it twisted – we should actually be skeptical of these new prospects for genuinely becoming strong, independent women who “don’t need no man,” and here’s why.
Modeled Embryos Are Eerily Similar to Early Human Life
Recently, Israeli scientists made a controversial breakthrough in reproductive technology where they grew an “entity” that very closely resembles a 14-day-old human embryo.
The “entity” was spawned without a female’s egg being fertilized by a male’s sperm and was instead made with reprogrammed stem cells. According to the researchers at the Weizmann Institute, it mimics four key structures that our typical early embryos have: epiblast cells (the fetus), trophoblast cells (the placenta), hypoblast cells (the supportive yolk sac), and extra-embryonic mesoderm cells.
The embryo model was deemed “exquisitely fine architecture” by leading professor of the study, Jacob Hanna, in an interview with BBC News, as well as an “amazing phenomenon,” but all structural successes aside, the “entity” isn’t actually identical to a human embryo.
Assembled with the hope of better understanding our body’s early organ growth, how genetic or inherited diseases develop, and to even combat miscarriage or birth defects, the embryo models are intended for study, and the researchers urged how using them to achieve real human pregnancy would be “unethical, illegal and actually impossible.” As of right now, the models haven’t been mimicked past 14 days, but apparently, it’s not illegal to push them further and see where science can take us.
Again, these models or “entities” aren’t human but are eerily close. Because of this, sirens are sounding across the scientific community and among everyday people to address some major ethical questions. Let’s chit-chat through a few of them and unpack the scary reality that someday, human life might be “spawned” by embryo-cloning science instead of good, old-fashioned sex.
Replication or Solo Reproduction Raises Countless Questions
In the BBC News article, one professor poses an important question: "So should you regulate them in the same way as a normal human embryo, or can you be a bit more relaxed about how they're treated?" Really, are these embryo models human or homunculus? Once you open up the floodgates for trying to classify what any new “entities” are, or even human embryos fertilized through revolutionary reproductive technologies, you unfortunately enter into very reductionist territory.
At least with in vitro fertilization (IVF), medical professionals use fresh or frozen eggs from a human female and sperm from a human male. But, with newer technologies, it would appear that we could soon ditch the need for naturally-produced eggs and sperm altogether. It’s not just these stem cell “entities” that Israeli researchers successfully modeled into resembling 14-day-old human embryos; scientists have been toying with in vitro gametogenesis (IVG) for quite some time now.
IVG “plays God” in a different way by taking any cell from a human body and custom-making human sperm and eggs from it. In Japan, scientists perfected IVG technology in mice – taking adult mice’s tail cells, inducing them to become a type of stem cell, and then coaxing those cells to become mouse eggs and sperm. Shockingly, they’ve already made embryos and implanted them into female mice’s wombs, and those mice allegedly gave birth to healthy pups. Scientists believe that IVG for humans isn’t too far away.
But if there were no naturally produced egg or sperm, is the mouse actually a mouse? Whether with IVG or the embryonic models in Israel, the entities are spawned from other living tissue. I hate to draw this comparison, but we see this in the food industry as well.
Lately, cultured meat has seen a major spike in interest since it’s grown in a lab from replicated animal cells and, as such, doesn’t require animal slaughter. Despite cultivated meat being made from animal tissues and having nearly the same structure, it’s not identical to naturally grown meat. It’s also made from tumor-like cells, but that’s a separate issue entirely.
But a slab of cultured bacon is just a piece of meat, so it doesn’t need many intricacies to support life. Increase the scale to something more than just replicating muscle cells, and you have to ask yourself – would a lab-cultivated and grown human actually be a human?
We’re putting the cart before the horse here, but when you’re dealing with potentially dicey strides in science, it’s important to ask as many questions as possible. If an entity is spawned from human cells but didn’t go through the natural process of forming from an inseminated egg to an embryo, would the being have the same functional capacities as naturally conceived beings?
Could it develop a beating heart without defects? Would the being’s central nervous system communicate correctly to the excretory system, reproductive system (if the being wants to hypothetically have kids of their own), or endocrine glands? If sex is established at fertilization when sperm determines whether or not a baby develops male sex organs, would these lab-grown humans technically not have a sex at all – or would they all be intersex, genderless beings?
These strides also add extra complexities to the contraception and abortion discourse. Does life begin at conception if no conception took place? How would laws adjust accordingly, or does reproduction just become the wild, wild West? If synthetically produced embryos aren’t conceived, are they typically not alive? Maybe they are instead some liminal clone for the person whose cells they were spawned from.
You may or may not be religious (after all, society is collectively becoming less spiritual in general), but in any case, it’s hard not to wonder whether or not a lab-grown being technically has a soul. Some would argue that if a being has the potential for human intelligence or at least consciousness (since there are many humans with varying levels of intellect), then they have a soul. The argument for a “soul” is a theological one that is seen across cultures – not just the Abrahamic religions.
Think back to pre-Homo sapiens hominids like the Neanderthals. Despite the fact that they were different species from what we are, according to archeological records, they buried their dead and acted in similar ways that lend themselves to a decent argument that they had human-like consciousness. This self-awareness and heightened cognitive ability could be considered a “soul.”
But would a lab-spawned being inherently act with human-like consciousness? Or, would they be more like an empty vessel for programming, a being without a soul that’s on standby to have their minds filled by something more corruptible? You have to feel at least a bit concerned that this lack of “soul” could inevitably lead to discrimination against those that were created rather than those conceived naturally.
Playing God Is a Tempting but Dangerous Game
We breed cattle, dogs, plants, and more to look or function differently for our own benefit. Genetic selection has helped the beef cattle industry, for example, breed for more attractive traits like growth rate, body measurements, carcass merit, structural soundness, or fertility.
Well, once we hit transhumanist territory for not only designer babies, but lab-spawned designer babies, there’s no telling how picky people will get with gene selection. Personally, I don’t think humans have the psychological strength to handle designing their own babies ethically, and God knows that no matter how many laws you pass, people will try their hardest to bypass them.
We’re supposed to have genetic quirks that subvert our best-laid “plans,'' and we’re highly susceptible to environmental variables outside our own control. That’s just life. So hypothetically, what do you expect parents to do if they pay thousands upon thousands for their baby to be produced with blonde hair, but the baby ends up a little bit more brunette? Just imagine the lawsuits.
And hypothetically, what if that baby grows up and wants to dye their hair some other color? Just imagine the dinner table arguments about parents wasting boatloads of cash for designer genetics only for their kids to muddle it all with a bottle of hair dye. I doubt there would be any sort of money-back guarantees, refunds, rebates, or exchanges for “store credit” if your baby doesn’t arrive with your perfectly preferred traits.
When you’re making bespoke babies, you also run the risk of creating a new class. In America, we’ve been pretty lucky to mostly function as a meritocracy, but in other nations like India, they’ve historically operated on a caste system. Would wealthy individuals with access to IVG-style designer genetics posture their children as superior to the plebians born “naturally,” who may have neurodivergent disorders, chronic illnesses, or perhaps just unappealing physical abnormalities?
Look, I know military recruitment has been on the decline, but come on! You know that some look at these scientific advancements in awe of the possibility that governments could form entire armies of unquestioning, loyal soldiers programmed to fight their battles for them.
The creation of a being to be perfected for some sort of beneficial usage feels a lot like enslavement. I don’t exactly want to live in the dystopian future where mega-corporations from Big Pharma to Big Food grow “human” workers while continuing to degrade natural human fertility through environmental endocrine disruptors, malnourishing “food” products, and woefully addictive, synthetic medications.
Unpacking Both Science and Society’s Antinatalist Agendas
I’ll never discount the fact that strides in understanding early life could save the lives of countless babies. It could be really “pro-life” in a sense to be able to better prevent miscarriage or fatal birth defects. But artificial baby-making doesn’t exactly feel pro-life to me at all. It feels inherently antinatalist.
With every stride in reproductive science made, there are undertones of scientific obsession with preventing the existence of normal human children. Contraceptives (from condoms to the Pill and more) temporarily hinder the ability to become pregnant, sterilization is on the rise, and people will fight tooth and nail to be able to murder children – I mean abort fetuses.
Antinatalists seek to make the family unit an obsolete concept in history. Many of them argue that procreation is a selfish act. Abortion activists seek to make it easier for a woman to not be inconvenienced by a child and, honestly, just continue on as a cog in the corporate machine instead of going through a full pregnancy, spending time at home postpartum, and perhaps not even returning to their (definitely fulfilling and not trivial) office job.
The doctrine of childlessness, whether compelled by birth control, the normalization of abortion, or reproduction sans conception, goes against our natural instincts as human beings to pass along our genetics, secure our legacy, and experience the unique feeling of love and purpose that comes from bearing our own children.
Sure, it would be so much easier to focus on professional success and building an impressive career if you swear off marriage and motherhood and either delay child rearing or opt for your child to be born outside your own womb so as not to disturb your physical appearance. But we’re designed to make families, and it's not exactly our domain to meddle with the process.
While the breakthrough recently made at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science isn’t cause for full-fledged fear-mongering for cloning in the very near future, it does pose endless questions for moral, ethical, social, regulatory, and legal ramifications of revolutionary reproductive technologies. There are undoubtedly some pros for this style of reproductive research to aid men and women struggling with infertility. After all, infertility rates are rising for both sexes.
But, the prospect of ditching a man and reproducing from your own body’s tissues is very similar in impact to marrying yourself. It feels self-absorbed and narcissistic, and devalues the noble tradition of marriage and parenthood. It’s indicative of an overall cultural shift to reject any sense of tradition and higher purpose, and instead vapidly live for “the moment.”
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