"Artificial Womb" Seen as Step Toward Dehumanization

Interview with Bishop Sgreccia of Pontifical Academy for Life

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 11, 2002 (Zenit.org).- A Holy See aide expressed concern at news of an "artificial uterus" that its builders said was able to temporarily support human embryos outside a woman´s body.



According to the British daily The Observer, scientists at Cornell University´s Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility in New York state have built the prototype of an artificial uterus, in which they placed the cells that form the internal mucous membrane of the uterus.

The research team, led by Taiwanese researcher Hung-Ching Liu, then implanted human embryos that adhered to the walls and began to develop over six days. At that moment, according to the researchers, the experiment was interrupted. The scientists hope to repeat it up to the 14th day, the maximum period allowed by law.

The scientific team stated that it has established the basis for gestation outside the maternal womb.

Andrea Riccardo Genazzani, president of the Italian Society of Endocrinology and Gynecology, criticized the experiment and contended that it "will be impossible to make a child develop outside the maternal womb." He said that it is one thing to maintain an embryo for a few days and quite another to sustain a pregnancy.

Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, in an interview today on Vatican Radio, voiced his own concerns.

Q: What do you think of this experiment?

Bishop Sgreccia: We are on the road toward dehumanization. It is no longer a question of human procreation that takes place outside of the act of love between father and mother, but also outside the woman´s body.

It is a purely technological procedure, to the detriment of a human creature. It doesn´t take too much effort to understand that this artifice of the laboratory must be condemned, also by law.

However, from now on, I don´t know who will be able to state that the human embryo does not have its own individuality, its own capacity to develop, given that it can develop even outside the mother´s body.

Further study will be necessary on the biological and human autonomy of the embryo to request the protection of the human creature from its beginning.

A paradoxical situation is created: On one hand, the authentic nature of the embryo is manifested, its human individuality, its capacity to develop in an autonomous manner from the moment of fertilization; and on the other, it is treated in an inhuman way, leaving it at the mercy of technology.

Q: The experiment not only disregards the biological relation between mother and child, but also the psychological.

Bishop Sgreccia: The one who is to develop is deprived of the fullness of communion with the mother. If what psychologists have always said is true -- which I believe: the emotional state, the subconscious, is developed in the prenatal phase in the exchange with the mother -- then in this case the dehumanization is paradoxical and serious.

Q: On this occasion, the scientific community in general has declared itself opposed to the "artificial uterus."

Bishop Sgreccia: Of course, and I hope that these exaggerations will pose these questions again in the whole scientific community, so that some nations, which still do not have laws on artificial procreation, will recover the full human meaning of the origin of human life, which must be the fruit of the love of the father and the mother, as well as of the sacred moment when the paternal and maternal relation begins.

Q: Is it possible to dedicate energy and funds to research that respects the human being?

Bishop Sgreccia: Yes, of course. We make every effort to have researchers understand that there is another way: to analyze the causes of infertility, to cure the body of the man and woman, so that it will recover the natural capacity to procreate and be able to give life in a more human and natural way. Little is invested in this sense. Funds are possibly allocated with greater facility to explore these new experiments, instead of directing research toward those areas that help natural human fertility.

Human reason is sufficient to understand that we are moving away from the authentic object of research.