Procreation without sex

British biologist Robert G. Edwards won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Medicine for developing the technique of in vitro fertilization.  Beginning in 1978, some 4 million children were born who were conceived outside the womb.

Robert G. Edwards’s breakthrough development of in vitro fertilization, which led to the birth of the first “test-tube baby,” Louise Brown, in 1978, gave humanity the power to do what previously was considered the province of God: create and manipulate human life.

In the ensuing decades, the pioneering techniques that won the British biologist a Nobel Prize on Monday have played a part in controversial scientific advances such as cloning and the creation of human embryonic stem cells while redefining fundamental social roles such as what it means to be a parent or a family.

“The impact on society has been profound,” said Lori B. Andrews of the Chicago-Kent College of Law, who studies reproductive technologies. “The creation of a child outside the body for the first time has had scientific and personal implications far, far beyond the 4 million children who have been born through in vitro fertilization.”

via Robert Edwards wins 2010 Nobel prize in medicine for in-vitro fertizilation.

I’m not saying that this technology is in itself wrong to use. The biggest problem with it is the engendering of “extra” embryos who are left frozen or killed for their stem cells.  But consider “the impact on society” and where we might go from here.

With birth control technology, people can have sex without procreation.  With in vitro technology, people can have procreation without sex.   Does this render the family technologically obsolete?  With no necessary natural function, is it reduced to just a companionship group?

Mental experiment:  An artificial womb is invented.  Will women  still want to go through pregnancy and labor?  (Would you?)  Or will society take advantage of the opportunity to manufacture whatever children are needed and no more?   Would we still take care of them in family units, or would this task fall to a state institution?   Or would everything just go along as it does today, with marriage and parenthood, but without the unpleasantness of childbearing?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    This is a real “consider the beam in your own eye” kind of thing. Our culture engages in much hand-wringing over endangerment of relatively insignificant animals and organisms caused by construction projects and the like, but tinkers merrily away with the mechanisms of reproducing the human race. Oy!

  • Pete

    This is a real “consider the beam in your own eye” kind of thing. Our culture engages in much hand-wringing over endangerment of relatively insignificant animals and organisms caused by construction projects and the like, but tinkers merrily away with the mechanisms of reproducing the human race. Oy!

  • Kirk

    “Gee, I’m glad I’m not an Alpha…”

  • Kirk

    “Gee, I’m glad I’m not an Alpha…”

  • http://womanofthehouse-blog.blogspot.com/ womanofthehouse

    Kirk, I was thinking of _Brave New World_ too. And yes! I would definitely go through pregnancy and labor again. It was an amazing experience that I feel very blessed to have had.

  • http://womanofthehouse-blog.blogspot.com/ womanofthehouse

    Kirk, I was thinking of _Brave New World_ too. And yes! I would definitely go through pregnancy and labor again. It was an amazing experience that I feel very blessed to have had.

  • EricM

    Heh – Kirk – reading Dr. Veith’s mental experiment, my mind went right to Brave New World as well.

    If we can manufacture humans to any specification we want, why indeed would anyone want to go through any hardship to acquire them?

  • EricM

    Heh – Kirk – reading Dr. Veith’s mental experiment, my mind went right to Brave New World as well.

    If we can manufacture humans to any specification we want, why indeed would anyone want to go through any hardship to acquire them?

  • WebMonk

    Can we make the assumption that the artificial womb really is as good as the real thing? There are millions of things that a real womb does beyond just keeping the baby warm and fed, and there are millions more things that affect the baby while in the womb that wouldn’t be present in an artificial womb.

    To make the thought experiment relatively even-handed, I assume we have to give the artificial womb the ability to somehow do just as good as a real womb would do?

  • WebMonk

    Can we make the assumption that the artificial womb really is as good as the real thing? There are millions of things that a real womb does beyond just keeping the baby warm and fed, and there are millions more things that affect the baby while in the womb that wouldn’t be present in an artificial womb.

    To make the thought experiment relatively even-handed, I assume we have to give the artificial womb the ability to somehow do just as good as a real womb would do?

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Like IVF the artificial womb will be both a great medical advance and a bane to society. The benefit of the artificial womb is that it could help eliminate the tough choice between mother and child in life threatening situations. If it were possible to transplant the child into an artificial womb in order to treat a life threatening condition in the mother there would be less reason to legally abort thus taking away one more emotional appeal to legalize immorality. Just think it could be possible to save the children who are implanted ectopically.

    At the same time, humans being well human will find a way to abuse technology. I can see some women electing to have children artificially so that they could continue with their career pursuits. I can also see us developing two classes of humans ala “Space Above and Beyond” and “Brave New World” or even delving into the world of “GATTACA”. I fear if we legislate in anticipation of abuse we will face a reality much like now where we will have that pivotal “Roe v Wade” lawsuit legalizing immoral use of artificial womb technology. And can you imagine what a draconian reproductive landscape China will become? Oocytes and spermatozoa harvested from people with desirable traits and everybody forcibly sterilized in the name of population control.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Like IVF the artificial womb will be both a great medical advance and a bane to society. The benefit of the artificial womb is that it could help eliminate the tough choice between mother and child in life threatening situations. If it were possible to transplant the child into an artificial womb in order to treat a life threatening condition in the mother there would be less reason to legally abort thus taking away one more emotional appeal to legalize immorality. Just think it could be possible to save the children who are implanted ectopically.

    At the same time, humans being well human will find a way to abuse technology. I can see some women electing to have children artificially so that they could continue with their career pursuits. I can also see us developing two classes of humans ala “Space Above and Beyond” and “Brave New World” or even delving into the world of “GATTACA”. I fear if we legislate in anticipation of abuse we will face a reality much like now where we will have that pivotal “Roe v Wade” lawsuit legalizing immoral use of artificial womb technology. And can you imagine what a draconian reproductive landscape China will become? Oocytes and spermatozoa harvested from people with desirable traits and everybody forcibly sterilized in the name of population control.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Interestingly, Dr. Russell Moore of SBC fame tweeted that “IVF is a lawless, dangerous, unregulated, multibillion dollar industry.” Now, a tweet is hardly a theological commentary, but I think Moore touched on something that we all have got to come to grips with as Americans. Far to many immoral atrocities are allowed in the name of making a buck – and we as Americans are typically anti-regulation. Doesn’t the vocation of government require protecting the innocent and promoting morality?

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Interestingly, Dr. Russell Moore of SBC fame tweeted that “IVF is a lawless, dangerous, unregulated, multibillion dollar industry.” Now, a tweet is hardly a theological commentary, but I think Moore touched on something that we all have got to come to grips with as Americans. Far to many immoral atrocities are allowed in the name of making a buck – and we as Americans are typically anti-regulation. Doesn’t the vocation of government require protecting the innocent and promoting morality?

  • Orianna Laun

    I guess I don’t read the right books. I haven’t read Brave New World, but I did think about The Giver, where they had children given to them by “birthmothers” whose only job was to give birth twice and then be sent out into the labor pool. They still had family “units:” one man, one woman, two children (a male and female).
    I would definitely do the whole preganancy/labor/delivery route again. A woman doesn’t realize how strong she is until after delivery. As for society creating as many children as needed, who’s going to determine that? Right now we’re being told that children increase the carbon footprint and not to have them, yet on the other hand, we’re being told that there aren’t enough working young coming up to pay for Social Security for the Boomers. Regulating reproduction (artifical or otherwise) is a very sticky situation.

  • Orianna Laun

    I guess I don’t read the right books. I haven’t read Brave New World, but I did think about The Giver, where they had children given to them by “birthmothers” whose only job was to give birth twice and then be sent out into the labor pool. They still had family “units:” one man, one woman, two children (a male and female).
    I would definitely do the whole preganancy/labor/delivery route again. A woman doesn’t realize how strong she is until after delivery. As for society creating as many children as needed, who’s going to determine that? Right now we’re being told that children increase the carbon footprint and not to have them, yet on the other hand, we’re being told that there aren’t enough working young coming up to pay for Social Security for the Boomers. Regulating reproduction (artifical or otherwise) is a very sticky situation.

  • Jen

    I’m expecting our baby girl any day now — due date was yesterday — and wouldn’t trade pregnancy for anything. Getting to carry our child for the last nine months has been a huge blessing. I can’t see how watching her grow in an artificial womb, apart from me, would be anything close to the same experience. I haven’t been through labor yet, and it scares me in some ways, but I also fully believe that there are many benefits for mother, father, and baby for going through that together.

    If an artificial womb were developed, it would be misused and would lead to the same sorts of family negation that we see as effects of other medical advances in conception and birth. However, even though there are artificial means available, most couples still turn to the original means of conception before attempting any other interventions. I think the same would happen with an artificial womb.

  • Jen

    I’m expecting our baby girl any day now — due date was yesterday — and wouldn’t trade pregnancy for anything. Getting to carry our child for the last nine months has been a huge blessing. I can’t see how watching her grow in an artificial womb, apart from me, would be anything close to the same experience. I haven’t been through labor yet, and it scares me in some ways, but I also fully believe that there are many benefits for mother, father, and baby for going through that together.

    If an artificial womb were developed, it would be misused and would lead to the same sorts of family negation that we see as effects of other medical advances in conception and birth. However, even though there are artificial means available, most couples still turn to the original means of conception before attempting any other interventions. I think the same would happen with an artificial womb.

  • http://joewulf.wordpress.com joe

    To continue with the mental experiment, I would wonder how an artificial womb would impact the number and age of women undergoing hysterectomies. What would the implications be societally, physically, etc.?

  • http://joewulf.wordpress.com joe

    To continue with the mental experiment, I would wonder how an artificial womb would impact the number and age of women undergoing hysterectomies. What would the implications be societally, physically, etc.?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Along with Brave New World, the Weird Al song “I think I’m a Clone Now” comes to mind.

    “I still remember how it began (gan-gan-gan)
    They produced a carbon copy man (man-man-man)
    Born in a science lab late one night
    Without a mother or a father, just a test tube and a womb with a view”

    http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/weirdalyankovic/ithinkimaclonenow.html

    Somehow I think that an artificial womb is thankfully far off, and it’s heartening to see women here who point out that having a baby is far more than just being handed a bundle of joy at the end. I would dare suggest as well that there might even be something damaging to a baby if there was no mother’s heartbeat and such during gestation.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Along with Brave New World, the Weird Al song “I think I’m a Clone Now” comes to mind.

    “I still remember how it began (gan-gan-gan)
    They produced a carbon copy man (man-man-man)
    Born in a science lab late one night
    Without a mother or a father, just a test tube and a womb with a view”

    http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/weirdalyankovic/ithinkimaclonenow.html

    Somehow I think that an artificial womb is thankfully far off, and it’s heartening to see women here who point out that having a baby is far more than just being handed a bundle of joy at the end. I would dare suggest as well that there might even be something damaging to a baby if there was no mother’s heartbeat and such during gestation.

  • rah

    I read Brave New World a couple of months after my daughter was born. With the experience of pregnancy and labor so fresh in my mind, I found it crazy that anyone would want to give up the full experience of motherhood.

    Now with this theoretical scenario of an artificial womb, I wonder why any woman would want to be removed from the first nine months of her child’s life? When my daughter was born, she already knew the sound of my voice. I wouldn’t give up that experience for the world.

    Jen, may God bless you and your family in these coming days.

  • rah

    I read Brave New World a couple of months after my daughter was born. With the experience of pregnancy and labor so fresh in my mind, I found it crazy that anyone would want to give up the full experience of motherhood.

    Now with this theoretical scenario of an artificial womb, I wonder why any woman would want to be removed from the first nine months of her child’s life? When my daughter was born, she already knew the sound of my voice. I wouldn’t give up that experience for the world.

    Jen, may God bless you and your family in these coming days.

  • Josie

    How ironic considering the article in Time Mag. last week about the possibilities of the interuterine environment effects on us throughout our lives. I’ve had 2 children and loved just about every moment of both pregnancies. I’m also one of those weird women who said “No thanks” to all the meds offered to alleviate the pain during child-birth. It was one of the most awesome experiences of my life and I would never give up the bonding between me and my babies and especially between me and my husband during the childbirth. There is nothing like it in the world and women are told so often that its horrible and should be avoided if at all possible -most often by c-section and much of that is really a lie. Just like nursing a baby causes some pain in the beginning and requires the mother to be with her baby most of the time especially in the first couple months…its all a part of the giving nature of love. Life on this earth is full of many small and sometime large sacrifices and plenty of pain, but how can we avoid that (before Christ’s Return) and not also be getting rid of love, hope and joy? “rah” mentioned Brave New World, and this is exactly what the ideas of art. wombs brings to mind with me as well!

  • Josie

    How ironic considering the article in Time Mag. last week about the possibilities of the interuterine environment effects on us throughout our lives. I’ve had 2 children and loved just about every moment of both pregnancies. I’m also one of those weird women who said “No thanks” to all the meds offered to alleviate the pain during child-birth. It was one of the most awesome experiences of my life and I would never give up the bonding between me and my babies and especially between me and my husband during the childbirth. There is nothing like it in the world and women are told so often that its horrible and should be avoided if at all possible -most often by c-section and much of that is really a lie. Just like nursing a baby causes some pain in the beginning and requires the mother to be with her baby most of the time especially in the first couple months…its all a part of the giving nature of love. Life on this earth is full of many small and sometime large sacrifices and plenty of pain, but how can we avoid that (before Christ’s Return) and not also be getting rid of love, hope and joy? “rah” mentioned Brave New World, and this is exactly what the ideas of art. wombs brings to mind with me as well!

  • Kie

    Interesting questions. Artificial womb over pregnancy. Just look how many women started bottle feeding over nursing when it became easy.

  • Kie

    Interesting questions. Artificial womb over pregnancy. Just look how many women started bottle feeding over nursing when it became easy.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Kie–since when is it easier to get bottle, mix formula, and warm it up–all while baby is screaming for food–than it is to adjust clothes and pull baby to breast? I’m sorry, but even if daddy helps with the bottles, breastfeeding is still a LOT easier.

    Reality is that moms instinctively know it’s better, and bottle-feeding was not pushed by convenience, but by doctors who argued (wrongly it turns out) that bottle feeding was more sanitary and scientific, as well as by those who argued that a breastfeeding mother couldn’t be modest.

    I would reckon that if an artificial womb is created, the same kind of arguments will be forwarded, and hopefully a new La Leche League will arise to help parents come to their senses.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Kie–since when is it easier to get bottle, mix formula, and warm it up–all while baby is screaming for food–than it is to adjust clothes and pull baby to breast? I’m sorry, but even if daddy helps with the bottles, breastfeeding is still a LOT easier.

    Reality is that moms instinctively know it’s better, and bottle-feeding was not pushed by convenience, but by doctors who argued (wrongly it turns out) that bottle feeding was more sanitary and scientific, as well as by those who argued that a breastfeeding mother couldn’t be modest.

    I would reckon that if an artificial womb is created, the same kind of arguments will be forwarded, and hopefully a new La Leche League will arise to help parents come to their senses.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Hmm, there are some surprisingly unexamined statements in the article’s intro: “in vitro fertilization … gave humanity the power to do what previously was considered the province of God: create and manipulate human life.” As to the lesser point, I’m pretty sure that humanity had the ability to “manipulate” life before IVF. As to the larger one, in what way does IVF give anyone the “power” to “create” life? You’re still uniting sperm and egg like you always did, but just in a different location than usual, yes? Where are the media critics when you need them?

    Anyhow, as to the thought experiment, I expect one day we will have something like an “artificial womb”. There almost certainly exist some medical conditions for which such a device would truly be helpful. As for what will happen next, you only have to look at the past.

    It will first be used only by those with relatively rare medical conditions that require it, owing to its newness and experimental nature. As the technology improves, some doctors will cavalierly start suggesting it to people for whom it is not medically necessary but merely convenient, perhaps at the urging of those who see it as a technological tool allowing them to overcome a perceived shortcoming in the human body. As these become more common, more studies will be done that show that the artificial device is lacking in ways that were unforeseen by the early adopters, when compared with the natural method. Then will begin a backlash by those who advocate for doing things the natural way. They’ll comment online and in public, heaping scorn on those who use artificial wombs, unfortunately without distinguishing between those who do so for medical reasons and those with more selfish motivations.

    As the father of a child who was unable to breastfeed, I might know a thing or two about how this goes, and how guilt-ridden a mom can be made to feel when she does things the “unnatural” way.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Hmm, there are some surprisingly unexamined statements in the article’s intro: “in vitro fertilization … gave humanity the power to do what previously was considered the province of God: create and manipulate human life.” As to the lesser point, I’m pretty sure that humanity had the ability to “manipulate” life before IVF. As to the larger one, in what way does IVF give anyone the “power” to “create” life? You’re still uniting sperm and egg like you always did, but just in a different location than usual, yes? Where are the media critics when you need them?

    Anyhow, as to the thought experiment, I expect one day we will have something like an “artificial womb”. There almost certainly exist some medical conditions for which such a device would truly be helpful. As for what will happen next, you only have to look at the past.

    It will first be used only by those with relatively rare medical conditions that require it, owing to its newness and experimental nature. As the technology improves, some doctors will cavalierly start suggesting it to people for whom it is not medically necessary but merely convenient, perhaps at the urging of those who see it as a technological tool allowing them to overcome a perceived shortcoming in the human body. As these become more common, more studies will be done that show that the artificial device is lacking in ways that were unforeseen by the early adopters, when compared with the natural method. Then will begin a backlash by those who advocate for doing things the natural way. They’ll comment online and in public, heaping scorn on those who use artificial wombs, unfortunately without distinguishing between those who do so for medical reasons and those with more selfish motivations.

    As the father of a child who was unable to breastfeed, I might know a thing or two about how this goes, and how guilt-ridden a mom can be made to feel when she does things the “unnatural” way.

  • Kie

    BB–since when is it easier to get bottle, mix formula, and warm it up–. . . breastfeeding is still a LOT easier.
    Well, I did both and I know many women that have done both. I must say that the bottle is easier. You don’t know about the pain that women go through for the first 6 weeks to feed their infants. It is made bearable by knowing that you are serving your child what is best.
    However, I didn’t make my comment as a statement on bottle versus breast, it was just what popped into my head when I read about the artificial womb. (artificial breast) I agree with what tODD said about how it comes about. Sorry that I seemed flippant.
    I was a failure at breast feeding 40 years ago. Now that I know many young women that are committed to it, I see that it isn’t easy even though it is natural. I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty.

  • Kie

    BB–since when is it easier to get bottle, mix formula, and warm it up–. . . breastfeeding is still a LOT easier.
    Well, I did both and I know many women that have done both. I must say that the bottle is easier. You don’t know about the pain that women go through for the first 6 weeks to feed their infants. It is made bearable by knowing that you are serving your child what is best.
    However, I didn’t make my comment as a statement on bottle versus breast, it was just what popped into my head when I read about the artificial womb. (artificial breast) I agree with what tODD said about how it comes about. Sorry that I seemed flippant.
    I was a failure at breast feeding 40 years ago. Now that I know many young women that are committed to it, I see that it isn’t easy even though it is natural. I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty.

  • http://mrsmksmusings.blogspot.com MrsMK

    As I read this, I confess I had thoughts that has not been expressed by any other commenter, so I will share.

    I am currently 16 weeks pregnant. I can empathize with the feelings of desparation that would lead to the use of an artificial womb. You see, after having three healthy boys, my daughter Ellie was stillborn, at 24 weeks gestation, for no medical reason we were able to discover. She was perfect. This spring, our son Benjamin died at 18 weeks….again, after testing, no apparent reason. I have undergone blood tests, and all the specialists say I’m fine.

    As I approach the times of my previous losses, I cry out to the LORD for this newest little life. He holds us all in his hands. But if there was anything medically I could do…..I would do it. Motherhood is sacrifice.

  • http://mrsmksmusings.blogspot.com MrsMK

    As I read this, I confess I had thoughts that has not been expressed by any other commenter, so I will share.

    I am currently 16 weeks pregnant. I can empathize with the feelings of desparation that would lead to the use of an artificial womb. You see, after having three healthy boys, my daughter Ellie was stillborn, at 24 weeks gestation, for no medical reason we were able to discover. She was perfect. This spring, our son Benjamin died at 18 weeks….again, after testing, no apparent reason. I have undergone blood tests, and all the specialists say I’m fine.

    As I approach the times of my previous losses, I cry out to the LORD for this newest little life. He holds us all in his hands. But if there was anything medically I could do…..I would do it. Motherhood is sacrifice.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    It certainly is, MrsMK! How unutterably sad. We’ll pray for you and your new baby.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    It certainly is, MrsMK! How unutterably sad. We’ll pray for you and your new baby.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Exile

    When my husband and I were going through infertility, at the fertility center we felt like we were at a used car lot. “For only $25K you could have a brand, shiny, new baby!!!” There was no research into solving our specific problem, which is not an uncommon one, but rather an unprofitable one. We opted for adoption because we had some serious ethical problems with IVF and such. Now, we cannot be happier with our daughter; we are truly meant for one another.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Exile

    When my husband and I were going through infertility, at the fertility center we felt like we were at a used car lot. “For only $25K you could have a brand, shiny, new baby!!!” There was no research into solving our specific problem, which is not an uncommon one, but rather an unprofitable one. We opted for adoption because we had some serious ethical problems with IVF and such. Now, we cannot be happier with our daughter; we are truly meant for one another.


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