The Subjects of Ectogenesis: Are “Gestatelings” Fetuses, Newborns, or Neither?

By Nick Colgrove

Artificial womb technology is not (yet) available for use on human subjects. It may become available in the near future, however. Should artificial womb technology be made available for use on human subjects, one might wonder: What is the nature of the subjects inside of artificial wombs? Are they fetuses, newborns, or something different altogether? These are important questions to consider since how we answer them will likely affect our judgment concerning the moral status (and legal protections) that should be afforded to subjects in artificial wombs.

Fetuses, for example, often receive fewer legal protections than newborns. After all, many countries allow abortion but prohibit infanticide. If we judge that human beings in artificial wombs are fetuses, therefore, then we may have good reason to assign to them fewer protections than newborns. Alternatively, if we believe that human beings in artificial wombs are a new type of being altogether, then questions about their moral status—and questions about the protections that should be afforded to them—seem open for debate.

This paper aims to provide a conclusive response to questions about the moral status of human subjects in artificial wombs. In a word, I argue that human subjects in artificial wombs share the same moral status as newborns. Thus, whatever protections are afforded to newborns should be afforded to human subjects in artificial wombs as well. To be especially clear, these are universal claims being made. My arguments extend to all human subjects in artificial wombs, regardless of age, stage of development, etc. In fact, I even argue that in cases where an embryo is created via in vitro fertilization (IVF) and then placed in an artificial womb, it subsequently deserves the very same moral status (and protections) as a newborn.

If successful, my argument has two major implications. First (and most obviously), clinical and experimental use of artificial womb technology must be consistent with the fact that the human subjects involved are morally equivalent to newborns. In other words, these subjects deserve the same treatment, protections, and respect that is afforded to newborns. Second, as mentioned above, I argue that even embryos that have been created via IVF and placed in an artificial womb deserve the same moral status (and protections) as newborns. This implies that being born is not necessary to be deserving of the same moral status as a newborn. That is, a human being does not need to be born to be deserving of the same moral status and protections afforded to newborns.

Paper Title: The Subjects of Ectogenesis: Are “Gestatelings” Fetuses, Newborns, or Neither?

Author: Nick Colgrove

Affiliation: Department of Philosophy, Baylor University

Competing Interests: The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.

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