Bioethics Blogs

She Ain’t Hefty™, She’s My Mother

May 04, 2017

by Sean Philpott-Jones, Chair, Bioethics Program of Clarkson University & Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

She Ain’t Hefty™, She’s My Mother

Late last week, my social media feed was flooded with videos showing a fetal lamb kicking and squirming inside a large liquid-filled bag. Thankfully, it wasn’t some obscene animal torture video. Rather it was a news article about a recent development in medical technology: the first successful demonstration of an artificial womb.

Developed by researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the artificial womb is known (descriptively enough) as a Biobag. It is essentially a large Ziploc™ bag that encloses the fetus and bathes it in a protective solution similar to the amniotic fluid inside the uterus. An external tube is used to pump oxygenated blood and nutrients to the growing fetus, replacing the placenta that would normally connect the mother to the unborn child.

So far the Biobag has only been used in the laboratory. To date, eight lambs have been delivered prematurely and then allowed to complete their gestational development in an artificial womb-like environment. All of the lambs developed normally, and researchers hope that Biobag-like technology can soon be used in the clinic to provide care and treatment for premature infants.

Premature birth is the leading cause of death in newborn infants. About 10 percent of all births globally are premature, with the infant born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Annually, more than 15 million children worldwide are born prematurely. A great many of these children will die from preterm-related ailments, despite receiving intensive support and care (where available).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.