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.