Artificial wombs: an ethical exploration

by YPU Admin on February 1, 2019. Tags: healthcare, Humanities, and Law

My name is Chloe and I’m a second year PhD student, funded by the Wellcome Trust, in Bioethics and Medical Law at the University of Manchester. I finished my A Levels in Physics, Biology and Chemistry in 2011, but having decided science wasn’t for me I took a gap year to think about what I wanted to do next. During my time off I decided to go in a completely different direction and applied to the University of Manchester to study Law. I started my degree in 2012 and I loved it! I was still interested in some of the ethical issues surrounding science and so during my degree I took modules in Medical Law and Mental Health Law and I wrote my dissertation about Caesarean Sections.


After my undergraduate degree I received a scholarship from Manchester to take my Masters in Healthcare Law and Ethics in 2015. In 2017 I started my PhD also in the School of Law at Manchester. My PhD is about artificial wombs and the impact of this technology on the law and ethics of reproduction and pregnancy.

IN DEPTH

Artificial womb technology is currently being developed as a replacement for conventional neonatal intensive care. Current methods of intensive care for premature babies cannot aid babies born before 22 weeks because their lungs are not developed enough for assisted ventilation. Intensive care also cannot always prevent premature neonates from developing life-threatening infections during treatment or serious long-term health problems as a result of being born premature. Artificial wombs might be the future solution to mortality and morbidity amongst premature babies. Artificial wombs are designed to mimic the conditions of the womb and effectively  ‘take over’ the process of gestation. An artificial womb treats a premature baby as if it had never been born. Artificial wombs should ‘sidestep’ the common complications caused by, or not prevented by, conventional methods of care. In 2017 there was a successful animal trial of an experimental artificial womb-like device; the ‘biobag.’ The scientists that invented this device have suggested they are only years away from considering human trials of the biobag.


My PhD is by publication, which means that rather than writing a traditional thesis I am writing and publishing a series of articles on my subject that I’ll put together into a thesis at the end. In reproduction science and medicine there are often rapid advances in technology and the law struggles to keep up. Academic research plays a really important role in highlighting the insufficiencies of the law at addressing ethical issues with these new technologies. Writing for publication gives me so much flexibility, and publishing helps me get stuck into, and generate, academic debate right now and help ensure my research has impact. I’m very lucky!

Most days, I spend my time reading and writing in our postgrad research office. I try to write a little something every day so I don’t get out of the habit. I’m also a teaching assistant in the school of law: so one day a week I spend teaching first year students criminal and contract law. I’m hoping to stay in academic when I’ve finished my PhD because I really enjoy both teaching and research.

GOING FURTHER

If you are interested in my research you can read this blog post about some of my work on the Journal of Medical Ethics Blog: https://blogs.bmj.com/medical-ethics/2018/08/11/artificial-wombs-a-shift-in-approach-to-neonatal-intensive-care-and-beyond/

You can also read my first research paper (it’s free because it is open access) here: https://jme.bmj.com/content/44/11/751

For a brief summary of the science behind artificial wombs: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/04/fluid-filled-biobag-allows-premature-lambs-develop-outside-womb

You can also follow my research on my Twitter: https://twitter.com/ECRomanis

For more information about Bioethics, Health and the Law at Manchester: https://www.law.manchester.ac.uk/research/themes/bioethics-health-and-law/


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