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Conventional revolution: the ethical implications of the natural progress of neonatal intensive care to artificial wombs

Abstract

Research teams have used extra-uterine systems (Biobags) to support premature fetal lambs and to bring them to maturation in a way not previously possible. The researchers have called attention to possible implications of these systems for sustaining premature human fetuses in a similar way. Some commentators have pointed out that perfecting these systems for human fetuses might alter a standard expectation in abortion practices: that the termination of a pregnancy also (inevitably) entails the death of the fetus. With Biobags, it might be possible, some argue, that no woman has the right to expect that outcome if the technology is able to sustain fetal life after an abortion. In order to protect the expectation that the termination of a pregnancy always entails the death of the fetus, Elizabeth Romanis has argued that fetuses sustained in Biobags have a status different than otherwise ‘born’ children. In support of that view, she argues that these ‘gestatelings’ are incapable of independent life. This argument involves a misunderstanding of the gestational support involved, as well as a misapprehension of neonatology practice. Here, we argue that any human fetus sustained in a Biobag would be as ‘independent’ as any other premature infant, and just as ‘born’. Neonatologists would seem to have certain presumptive moral responsibilities toward any human fetus gestating in a Biobag. It remains a separate question whether the perfection and widespread application of Biobags for premature human beings would or should alter the expectation that ending a pregnancy also entails fetal death.

  • neonatology
  • abortion
  • ethics

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