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Are We Legally Ready for Artificial Wombs?

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

We might not be living in Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World' or the film Gattaca quite yet, but with every passing day, we seem to be getting closer.

As science and medical technology advance in the areas of artificial conception and designer babies, legal issues are often the barrier that prevent new tech from being used. This is also true for artificial wombs.

Although researchers believe that being able to gestate a human being inside an artificial womb to full term is still several years away, legal hurdles could prevent researchers from being able to get there, at least for humans. In Japan, back in 1996, researchers were already having some success with gestating goats in artificial wombs. And, in 2003, a researcher actually was able to gestate a mouse to term in an artificial womb.

The 14-Day Rule

While only observed by a minority of countries throughout the world, the scientific community follows, and many governments enforce, what is known as the 14-day rule. This rule, which is codified as law in many nations, prevents scientific research on embryos that have been gestated past 14 days.

The reason behind this rule relates to the development of embryos. After approximately 14 days, the cells that go on to grow into an individual human body begin developing. Before 14 days, an embryo is more of a cluster of cells than an individual, from the scientific (rather than moral) perspective, because the embryo can still split in two, or be combined with another embryo.

Additional Restriction in the US

While the 14-day rule is more-so guidance than law in the United States, individual states restrict research and experimentation on human embryos at various stages. Additionally, there are numerous federal regulations that also impose restrictions on genetics research.

However, despite the restrictions, researchers are pushing on. Recently, a human embryo was gestated in an artificial womb for 10 days. Although the moral and philosophical implications of using artificial wombs are vast, it is nearly undeniable that using an artificial womb in order to save an endangered embryo, fetus, or infant is worth pursuing. However, for more significant advances to be made, exceptions will need to be carved out of the 14-day rule, or the rule will need to be replaced with something that allows for researchers to continue beyond the 14-day limit.

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