There are countless science fiction stories, movies, and shows that play on the idea of harvested human beings. Remember the scene in The Matrix where we see rows upon rows of incubators hosting none other than humans! Laurence Fishburne, as Morpheus, did a convincing job explaining the process to Neo. Who could forget his delivery of, “The endless fields where humans are no longer born, they’re grown.”
How close are we to being batteries? Ready to go down the rabbit hole?
Good, red pill it is. You probably already know that science has already made it possible for fertilization to occur outside the human body. It’s called in vitro fertilization, or IVF, and it’s been gaining popularity at a pretty fast clip. You are likely less than three degrees of Kevin Bacon away from someone who’s undergone IVF. In 2012, 1.5% of U.S. born babies were due to IVF, a 50% increase from 2003 and that number continues to grow.
Additionally, fetuses have now been demonstrated to live and mature successfully outside their mothers’ wombs as early as 22 weeks, barely halfway through the normal 40 week gestational period. These advances have allowed countless families the opportunity to have a child, who might not have otherwise been able to as well as increase the statistics for viable births at earlier gestational ages.
So what’s next? How about a baby created outside the womb and “grown” inside an artificial womb?
Scientists believe ectogenesis (creating life outside the body), is not far off and many claim that the technology is inevitable. In 1997, Japanese scientists successfully sustained a 17-week-old goat fetus for three weeks in an artificial amniotic fluid.
In 2002, Dr Hung-Ching Liu of Cornell University’s Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility successfully created a prototype of an artificial womb utilizing cells from women’s bodies and embryos did in fact attach to the artificial walls and even began to grow. They had to terminate the embryo after six days due to IVF regulations, but the potential is undeniable. And just this year, scientists have managed to grow human embryos to at least 14 days old inside a petri dish!
And then of course there’s the big business factor. If creating a baby becomes a lucrative and potentially safer business than the “old-fashioned way,” insurance companies might insist that women utilize an artificial womb in order to have their pregnancies covered by a plan. There are lots of other big questions swirling around the possible ramifications of this particular tech. For example, will eliminating the hard work from the birth of a child make children an arbitrary commodity? And if a child is born void of a human uterus, will it in fact still be all that it means to be innately human?
Yep, the mere notion of the artificial womb makes the aforementioned fields of unborn fetuses grown instead of born seem eerily plausible. Ever see the science fiction movie The Island? In it, clones were essentially harvested for extra body parts and organs. See where I’m going? Harvesting humans might mean big money for biotech companies around the world and it looks like the race is on. Hard to tell how this one plays out, but play out it most definitely will.
What’s next on your sci-fi wish list? Put it in a comment, and I’ll research it. Your dream tech may be closer to reality than you imagine!