Norwegian Philosopher Proposes Using Brain-Dead Women As Surrogates

Surrogacy is a difficult topic that people have varying opinions on. Some individuals argue it provides an opportunity for infertile and same-sex couples to have children. Others believe it exploits women and potentially harms the unborn child. But what if the surrogate in question is not fully alive?

By Erin Van Natta4 min read
Robie Online/Shutterstock

A philosopher in Norway recently proposed the idea of using brain-dead women as surrogates. Dr. Anna Smajdor, who is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Oslo, claimed it would provide “an alternative means of gestation for prospective parents who wish to have children but cannot.” Her dystopian ambitions, however, have already started to come to fruition.

The idea was first presented in 2000 by Rosalie Ber, who suggested women in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) with previously written permission could be used for gestational surrogacy. In PVS, patients may still be able to breathe unaided, experience sleep cycles, make facial expressions, and open their eyes. In contrast, brain death is when there is no brain function, and according to the National Kidney Foundation, brain death is irreversible. Dr. Smajdor contends that these patients would need to be subjected to “prolon[ged] ventilation and somatic survival” to be surrogates. 

The Ethics of Brain-Dead Surrogates

Surrogacy is already a topic that generates controversy, and the added factor of a surrogate in a vegetative state has evoked condemnation. Is it ethical to use women for their wombs and sever the relationship between mother and child, particularly when the woman is brain-dead?

According to the founder and president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, Jennifer Lahl, unborn children are best off developing in their mother’s womb. She told The Christian Post, “When a baby is born, they instinctively know their mother from those nine months in her womb.” Dr. Smajdor acknowledges the controversial nature of this topic and admits people feel a “discomfort” due to the “liminal state between life and death” the brain-dead are in.

When a baby is born, they instinctively know their mother from those nine months in her womb.

There is an instinctive repulsion by many people to her claims because life is viewed as inherently sacred, and human biology is not meant to be commodified. The philosopher openly admits that Whole Body Gestational Donation (WBGD) “treats the patient’s dead body as a means to an end.” Dr. Smajdor’s surrogacy claim is not only an attack on biology but also pregnancy, and by extension, motherhood. She argues WGBD should take the place of natural pregnancy, claiming “we can transfer the risk of gestation to those who are no longer able to be harmed by them.” By stripping away the bond between a mother and her child, Dr. Smajdor is paving the way for an anti-life vision that treats children as disposable commodities.

She admits that Whole Body Gestational Donation would lead to the death of embryos, and also that late-term abortions would be permissible. Dr. Smajdor claims, “Legal grounds for abortion generally include impairments or diseases affecting the foetus. … Commissioning parents may decide on abortion or selective reduction in accordance with their own wishes, without having to worry about the effects on the gestating donor.” Dr. Smajdor’s suggestions are the inevitable conclusion of a culture that commodifies biology and rejects the sanctity of life. If the life of the unborn child doesn’t matter, then what is the end goal of WGBD?

Artificial Wombs and Outsourcing Pregnancy

There are other alternative methods of gestation being touted to the public in the name of progress. Surrogacy and artificial wombs are not entirely separate, as Alex Hudson observes in Metro: “With surrogacy growing in awareness … what’s the difference between contracting a person to carry your baby and contracting a machine?” Perhaps that is the logical conclusion of Dr. Smajdor and Ber’s proposals: Pregnancy will be outsourced to technology.

Pregnancy will be outsourced to technology.

The uncanny future envisioned in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is unveiling itself before our very eyes. In a viral video, the biotechnologist Hashem Al-Ghaili described his vision for “the world’s first artificial womb facility,” which he named “EctoLife.” The futuristic facility has 75 labs, with each one holding 400 artificial wombs. It would also give parents the option to genetically engineer their children and choose traits such as height, intelligence, and hair color. 

While EctoLife is not yet a reality, scientists have been making strides with ectogenesis, or gestation outside the womb. In a 2018 study, scientists kept premature lambs alive in plastic “biobags” filled with a substance similar to amniotic fluid. Carlo Bulletti, who is a fertility specialist and associate professor at Yale University’s department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science, told Vice in 2018 that artificial wombs could be a possibility in 10 years. 

Uterus Transplants for Men

Naive people in the 1950s may have believed that the future would entail flying cars, but the brilliant minds in the 21st century have instead gifted us with pregnant men. In Dr. Smajdor’s paper “Whole body gestational donation (WBGD),” she claims brain-dead men “have the potential to gestate” and adds that “the liver is a promising implantation site.” Artificial wombs have been proposed for transsexuals who desire to have children. Many LGBTQ activists believe “trans women” should have the ability to bear children. Fertility experts claim a womb transplant in a man “is very likely in the near future.” 

This adds a whole other dimension to the conversation and begs multiple questions: How does a man give birth? What are the effects on the unborn child? What are the potential complications and health risks for patients who undergo such a procedure? How are women going to be affected? 

Womb transplants in women are dangerous enough; they can lead to infection, blood clots, and miscarriages. They also potentially harm the unborn child. In a Swedish study on womb transplants, the four babies born in the trial were premature. The long-term consequences of womb transplants on the unborn are still unknown. A man may choose to undergo transgender “bottom surgery,” but the result would likely not be sufficient for a natural birth. So, the baby would have to be birthed via a C-section. 

Technological advancement has superseded medical ethics in the quest to conquer our nature.

The first womb transplant in a male was attempted in 1931 on Lili Elbe, a Danish transsexual. However, Elbe died from cardiac arrest as a result of an infection from the surgery three months later. Theoretically, some transsexuals may wish to keep the womb permanently, but there are serious potential health risks that could arise. Medicine has improved since the 1930s, but the surgeries are still experimental and fraught with complications.

Dr. Smajdor’s hope – using brain-dead men for surrogacy to mitigate feminist backlash – stands on shaky ground. Milli Hill, a feminist author, says, “In some ways, the idea that a male can give birth if only they have a uterus is quite insulting to women, reducing us to mere incubatory vessels.” Many radical feminists believe a Handmaid’s Tale-style dystopia has captured American democracy, and in a strange twist, their predictions are correct. But this dystopian future is not being forwarded by traditionalists and theocrats, rather those who will chase after scientific progress at any cost. 

Closing Thoughts

Is all of this a logical fallacy, or has it become our reality? You could argue that separating pregnancy from motherhood has paved the way for artificial wombs and brain-dead surrogates. Technological advancement has superseded medical ethics in the quest to conquer our nature. The dangers posed to unborn children, women, and men are all being ignored in the pursuit of a transhumanist utopia where biology has no limitations. 

Love Evie? Sign up for our newsletter and get curated content weekly!