Artificial Wombs, Birth, and "Birth": A Response to Romanis

Journal of Medical Ethics:medethics-2019-105845 (2019)
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Recently, I argued that human subjects in artificial wombs (AWs) “share the same moral status as newborns” and so, deserve the same treatment and protections as newborns. This thesis rests on two claims: (A) “Subjects of partial ectogenesis—those that develop in utero for at time before being transferred to AWs—are newborns,” and (B) “Subjects of complete ectogenesis—those who develop in AWs entirely—share the same moral status as newborns.” In response, Elizabeth Chloe Romanis argued that the subject in an AW is “a unique human entity…rather than a fetus or a newborn.” She provides four lines of response to my essay. First, she argues that I have “misconstrued” what birth is. Once we correct that error, it becomes clear that subjects of partial ectogenesis have not been born. Second, she argues that my claims imply that non-implanted embryos (existing in vivo) “would also be ‘born.’” But that is absurd. Third, she claims I fail to “meaningfully respond” to distinctions she draws between subjects of ectogenesis and neonates. Finally, she criticizes my essay for focusing on subjects of AWs rather than focusing on pregnant persons (who should be at the “centre” of debates over AWs). I respond to each of these charges. In doing so, I reaffirm that (contra Romanis) some subjects of ectogenesis are newborns and all subjects of ectogenesis—even those that have not been born—share the same moral status as newborns.

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Nicholas Colgrove
Augusta University