Artificial human wombs have ethicists concerned

embryo experiments warning

After scientists successfully grew mouse embryos in an artificial uterus, ethicists are warning against any future extension of the human embryo experiments.

On March 17, scientists reported that they had taken fertilized eggs of mice and grew mouse embryos in an artificial uterus for 11 to 12 days.

This was longer than had ever been previously recorded.

The experiment’s lead researcher suggested that human embryos should eventually be studied in an artificial womb. Suggesting this be as late as 40 days post-fertilization.

Dr Jacob Hanna led the embryo experiments for the Weizmann Institute of Science research team in Israel. He wrote that his experiments could help fellow scientists study the development of mammals.

The experiments could possibly help understand how miscarriages and gene mutations can occur, the New York Times reported.

Hanna also hoped the research could extend to human embryos in the future.

“I hope it will allow scientists to grow human embryos until week five,” as reported in the MIT Technology Review.

Hanna added that he is pushing for research labs to study human embryos, growing them in an artificial womb for 40 days before disposing of them.

“I do understand the difficulties. I understand. You are entering the domain of abortions,” Hanna said, the MIT Technology Review reported. “So I would advocate growing it [the human embryo] until day 40 and then disposing of it.”

The hypothetical practice could replace the fetal tissue research market, he said.

“Instead of getting tissue from abortions, let’s take a blastocyst and grow it,” he said.

In response, a Catholic ethicist told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly that the Church opposes experimentation on human embryos except for direct, therapeutic, non-harmful treatments for the embryos themselves.

“The Church has already spoken to this issue,” said Dr Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly. He cited the Vatican’s 1987 document Donum Vitae, “Instruction on respect for human life.”

In the document, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) taught that only direct therapeutic experiments are licit on human embryos.

Meaney added, “nothing that would put their lives in danger could be acceptable.”

“The Church is very pro-science,” he emphasized.

“We always put the human person at the center of science, not to be experimented upon. But to be actually helped.”

In Donum Vitae, the Vatican CDF stated “[t]he human being must be respected – as a person – from the very first instant of his existence.”

“No objective, even though noble in itself, such as a foreseeable advantage to science, to other human beings or to society, can in any way justify experimentation on living human embryos or foetuses, whether viable or not, either inside or outside the mother’s womb.”


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