Why ‘gestaticide’ is morally equivalent to infanticide

By Daniel Rodger, Nicholas Colgrove, Bruce P. Blackshaw

Artificial womb technology may one day permit a fetus to be surgically removed from its mother’s body and placed into an artificial environment, mimicking life in utero. Following Elizabeth Chloe Romanis, let’s call the subjects living inside artificial wombs ‘gestatelings.’ An important question that arises is how should gestatelings be treated?

Debates over this question are already underway, and we have been actively involved in them. For example, Colgrove argues that gestatelings should generally be treated like newborns. This, he argues, is because they are newborns (see articles here and here, as well as blogs here and here). Romanis and Elselijn Kingma disagree (see here and here, respectively). While the question of whether or not gestatelings are newborns is an important one, this paper builds upon the views listed here without declaring any one in particular the winner.

Specifically, we center our essay around answering two questions:

  • When (if ever) is it permissible to kill the gestateling (an act Rodger terms, ‘gestaticide’), and
  • When (if ever) is it permissible to let the gestateling die (e.g., by withdrawing life-sustaining care)?

We argue that (1) gestaticide is as hard to justify (morally speaking) as standard cases of infanticide and (2) letting gestatelings die will be justifiable only under the same conditions in which it is permissible to remove life-sustaining treatment from newborns in the NICU or nursery. In other words, we show that gestaticide is as impermissible as infanticide and that it is permissible to withdraw life-sustaining treatment from gestatelings only when continued treatment is futile, death is imminent and unavoidable, and/or treatment itself is overly burdensome. Importantly, these claims hold whether Colgrove is right (when claiming that gestatelings are newborns) or Romanis and Kingma are right (when denying that claim).

Defending these claims is critical, because as artificial womb technology becomes available, we believe it is inevitable that people will defend the permissibility of gestaticide. Already Räsänen, for example, has defended the right of (genetic) parents to commit gestaticide (though Blackshaw and Rodger; Kaczor and others have provided responses).

Our project serves as a preventive measure against gestaticide and against letting gestatelings die for arbitrary reasons. Gestatelings, like newborns, must not be killed for economic reasons, or because biological parents change their mind about raising a child, and so on. Put differently, legal authorities and healthcare professionals have good reason to protect the lives of gestatelings as they would protect the lives of newborns in the NICU. Our case places the burden of proof on those who would argue that gestaticide should be permissible.


Paper titleGestaticide: Killing the Subject of the Artificial Womb

Author(s): Daniel Rodger, Nicholas Colgrove, Bruce P. Blackshaw

Affiliations: London South Bank University. Wake Forest University. University of Birmingham.

Competing interests: None

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