Ectogenesis Questions

Bryan Caplan discusses the phenomenon of “ectogenesis,” whereby babies would be conceived via artificial insemination and then grown in an artificial incubation tank rather than the mother’s womb.  He asks,

1. If this technology were safe and effective, what fraction of prospective parents would pay an extra $10,000 to avoid pregnancy?

2. If insurance covered ectogenesis, what fraction of mothers would still opt for a traditional pregnancy?

3. How much do you think the availability of ectogenesis would affect family size?

Most of his readers believe the impact would be low, in that even women who could afford the procedure wouldn’t want to miss out on the bonding experience of natural pregnancy if they were physiologically able to carry a baby to term.

Megan McArdle notes also that “there are good reasons to go through pregnancy:  the ability to breastfeed, for one, and also the pair-bonding hormones that flood your body during and after birth.”  She notes, though, that pregnancy is hard on the body and still carries health risks for the mother.

Commenter Emma B observes that women already have the option of using a human surrogate relatively inexpensively and that few do so because “the financial and emotional difficulties are non-trivial.”  That’s true, although I suspect more would chose a technological surrogate precisely because there would be fewer emotional barriers.  Presumably, though, if the practice became more normalized (say, because rich celebrities began to opt for it so as to continue working or to keep their body in its most camera-ready form) the stigma would go away and it might become more popular.

It seems to me that the chief customers for ectogenesis, presuming it were technologically feasible and indeed as inexpensive as Kaplan posits, would be women unable to physically carry a baby to term. Older would-be mothers or those who have had multiple miscarriages would jump at the chance to have a baby that’s genetically theirs.

Image:  iO9

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Floyd says:

    What would this do to gender rights?
    Say in the field of terminating the “pregnancy” for example?
    Of who’s body would it simply be a disposable part?

  2. Christopher says:

    Wow, what a “what-if”!

    And what if we could live in “The Jetson’s” world? Or become invisible at will? Or read minds? Surely there are enough real existential-type questions in the world that we don’t have to start considering impossibilities?

    Oh wait!-is this the Star Trek channel?

  3. Dutchgirl says:

    Floyd, I’m sure the rate of unplanned, unwanted ectogenetic pregnancies would be huge! Oh, Billy, we only went to the lab twenty times to harvest eggs and sperm and set up the payment plan, and now I’m pregnant! I want an abortion!

  4. Gollum says:

    Dutchgirl, not every pregnancy that ends up terminated is unwanted at the start. People change; life circumstances change. Floyd’s question, while a little snarky, raises an interesting point. What would happen to a baby-in-progress when the parents no longer want it? Shouldn’t they just be able to turn off the incubator at some time prior to, say, six months? If not, why not? When would the state’s interest in the developing baby begin? Fertilization? Placement in the incubator? “Viability?” Would one parent alone be able to end the incubation? It’s thought provoking to take whatever answers you come up with to these questions and compare them to the answers you get when a living mother is involved.

  5. Floyd says:

    You have completely failed to address any of my points, while thinking you have trumped them.[lol]
    Your point has merit,but since the procedure is hypothetical we’ll never know.
    However,an example might be the typical lack of commitment in modern relationships which could lead to dissolving the relationship mid-ectopregnancy.

  6. Dutchgirl says:

    “since the procedure is hypothetical we’ll never know.”

    exactly, hence the snarkyness. Of all the intersesting questions to be raised by the possibility of ectogenesis, the abortion question is not on the top my list.

  7. Grewgills says:

    I think the most interesting questions surrounding this procedure involve the developing fetus. How will hormone delivery be optimized? What sounds will the fetus be exposed to? (recordings of the parents? generalized body cavity recordings? constant motor hum?) In short, how will the environment be created, optimized, and personalized for the physical, mental, and emotional health of each eventual child?

    Re: abortion
    I think with such a procedure abortions would be orders of magnitude less common than for traditional pregnancy (on par with surrogate parent abortions) so concern on this front is for now purely academic, though it would likely be used as test ground for those who want to expand fetal rights.
    As for whose decision it would be, I would guess that it would determined by contract with the default position being agreement by both parents.

  8. Floyd says:

    When writing my list, your priorities are not relevant.

  9. William d'Inger says:

    Let one hot Hollywood sex starlet do it to preserve her girlish figure, and there’ll be a million ecto babies in the pipeline before the week is out.

  10. William d'Inger says:

    What happens when a rich Madonna type decides to have 191 ectos at the same time using a sperm donor from each of the countries in the UN? Actually there are 192 UN nations, but a Madonna type would never want another US child to further pollute the world.

  11. Christopher says:

    You guys probably all believe in the possibility of brain transplants as well, huh?

  12. Michael says:

    Floyd, I’m sure the rate of unplanned, unwanted ectogenetic pregnancies would be huge!

    What about when the parents discover that their little mass of baby cells will eventually have Down Syndrome or Autism? What if it will be severely physically or mentally handicapped?