Ectogenesis is a relatively new word. Coined by scientist J B S Haldane, the word means 'developing outside'. In less than three decades, the word will be the most oft heard. Because it is bound to change the way human babies are born -- outside the mother's womb.
When that day arrives, feminism will probably have to redefine itself. Just as an artificial sperm is close to being a reality, thus reducing the role of the male in reproduction, an artificial womb will considerably impact the role of the female in the society.
More than anything else, the artificial womb -- irrespective of the state's sanction to the concept - will revolutionize the process of procreation.
What will this mean to the human society, the family structure and the bonds therein? Science is known to bring about new possibilities. Science is exciting and consumed in its own feats. While it opens new horizons for the society to explore using its innovations, inventions and discoveries, society at large mostly grapples with the complexities science throws up along its undeterred march towards untrodden paths.
Transhumanist Zoltan Istvan who has been studying the future of artificial womb strongly feels the concept may well have a good answer for a lot of problems the world is facing today.
While the commercial aspect of this would mean great news to health and fertility industry, the social aspect remains to be explored. The initial responses from feminist perspective are a mixed bag of opinions.
"A lot of the essential technology for ectogenesis already exists or could be developed within a few years. The real issue with it is whether the public feels comfortable with it. If there will be support for the idea and the technology, then I do believe more companies will consider developing technology around it. It will be, after all, a multi-billion dollar industry if it catches on," says Istvan.
There are indications that Ectogenesis per se, may take the direction of checking the population to ensure less children die owing to hunger in the world. Once a norm, ectogenesis will hold the key to nature vs humans. But, this is not the ONLY direction it hopes to take.
Larger purpose of ectogenesis, and a pronounced political implication would be the right to give birth. Uterus or the womb in layman's terms is the most politicized organ in the human body. Society constructs marriage around it in order to claim right over the sperm that will find its fertilizing partner to create a human child. Womb in more ways than one, turns into a preserve of a man who marries a woman. A child HAS to be the combination of these two people.
Anything outside this social framework has no sanction. Birth is a matter of moral right. The suffering of birthing and mothering is female's forte, across the species.
On a personal note, says Istvan, he supports ectogenesis because he watched his wife undergo a C-section. "It's a massive, bloody, and dangerous surgery. Like most people who watch their loves ones go under the knife on an operating table, it's safe to say I would prefer to have another alternative that doesn't involve my loved on in pain or in medical peril. I think in the future, our species will look back and see the natural birth process as medically dangerous and archaic," he observes.
What happens inside a womb is purely a medical science. But, what happens 'around' it, in the physical world is sociology and social psychology.
For a moment let's consider Ectogenesis will help control population by making child birth a controlled regime. Would this help end the world's problems? The answer isn't a simple yes or no.
Given the fact that Communist China blocked (sometimes forcefully) the birth of 400 million children ever since its 'one child policy' came into existence in 1979, one wonders whether Ectogenesis will be welcomed with open arms.
Because, despite birth regulation, China has still remained on top with being the most populated country in the world. India is only next to China and may soon inch its way forward by the end of century if birth control measures remain a matter of choice. West has been more than critical of Chinese policy on child birth, but it hardly matters to the country which is battling the most crucial war within its own boundaries.
Considering the implications of leaving the matter of child birth at the hands of humans across the world, ectogenesis may turn into a savior. There are quite a few factors at play here. Foremost of them would be the fact that sufferings and mortality would be a passé when a fertilized egg begins to take the shape of a human baby outside the womb.
Eventually, single men or women can choose to have babies without necessarily subscribing to marriage or the fear of mortality involving child birth.
Economically, for persons who make this choice, child birth will be a smooth trail without the discomfort or professional growth cut short.
The futurists of ectogenesis are both an excited and nervous lot. They anticipate that the road ahead is ridden with more potholes than they can ever imagine.
"The single largest hurdle for ectogenesis will be human trials. No one wants to see a fetus harmed because tests went badly, so that will certainly mean this will be slow and laborious process to get governments to approve artificial wombs" adds Zoltan Istvan.
With church and religion being always against any form of interference in the natural course of childbirth, especially using science, it remains to be seen whether the doors will open for Ectogenesis or if they will be sealed shut. In any case, Science has already found its path now.