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How Many Wombs Does a Baby Need?
Ana Brennan, J.D. 07 November 2018
Just when you thought life could not get any stranger. Recently, in Texas, two different women carried the same unborn child. Let me repeat that, one unborn child was carried by two different women. I was intrigued. How exactly did modern science pull this off? To understand how this feat was accomplished we must first understand how in-vitro fertilization (IVF) works.
In general, IVF involves creating extra-uterine embryos, growing them for about a week in the lab, and then transferring them into a woman hopefully resulting in a successful pregnancy carried to term. In the present case, embryos were created but instead of growing them in the lab doctors grew the embryos in the womb of one of the women of a same-sex couple for five days. The embryos were then removed from her womb and ultimately transferred into her partner who continued the pregnancy, giving birth to their son nine months later.
"She got the embryo [the one that successfully survived] off to an early start," Kathy [the doctor] said. "The eggs fertilized in her body, and when they returned five days later, we removed the device and froze the embryos."(emphasis added). . . "Almost like passing the baton, like it's a relay race. . ."
The doctors claim that growing embryos inside a womb, compared to the lab, is more advantageous to the development of healthy embryos. It is hoped this new process of first growing embryos in the womb and then transplanting them into a different womb, will lead to higher pregnancy success rates. As the doctor put it, "It turns out, not surprisingly, that the woman's own body is a very good incubator."
There are two conflicting lessons we can take away from this. First, this situation raises many of the same ethical concerns as surrogacy. I previously discussed these concerns in some depth but some concerns bear repeating. Here we have the same old mentality of treating the lives of unborn children like property, commodities. Like almost all IVF treatments doctors created extra children to increase the odds of a successful pregnancy. They started with embryos, yet only had one child. What happened to the other embryos? Obviously, they died somewhere during this process. The couple also has two frozen embryos left over. Once again, we are perpetuating a practice which intentionally creates life for the sole purpose of becoming collateral damage.
In addition to normalizing the idea that human beings are disposable, one can only imagine the abuses that will stem from this new and improved process. The current case involves two women, but what about cases that don’t involve two women, such as heterosexual couples or a same-sex couple of gay men? Shouldn’t they have access to this procedure to increase their chances of a successful pregnancy? In addition to needing a surrogate, now a second woman will be needed to act as an “incubator.” If a woman can already rent her womb for nine months as a surrogate why can’t a woman carry someone else’s embryos for five days?
As we know from our experience with surrogacy the risk of exploitation and abuse is very real. Adding another woman to the mix only creates more opportunities for abuse. There is a reason both the European Union and the United Nations consider surrogacy a human rights violation.
The second lesson to take away from this story is it inadvertently promotes the humanity of the unborn. One thing that was absolutely fascinating about this story was how the embryos were described. Speaking about her partner who carried their son the first five days, the birth mother said,
"She got to carry him for five days and was a big part of the fertilization, and then I carried him for nine months." (emphasis added)
Even when their son was still an embryo they recognized their son as a separate human being. He was transferred into his second mom. He was not part of his first mother’s body. If he had been, nothing would have grown in the second mom. The whole process illustrates that the embryo is a distinct human being. Their son was conceived in one mom, moved to another mom for five days, and then transferred back into the first mom where he was originally conceived.
Yes, he still needed the environment of a womb to grow, but if this new technology tells us anything it is that it doesn’t really matter whose womb it is. If we can move the unborn from womb to womb how can anyone say that the child is merely part of a woman’s body? Of course, I’m not saying this is a good thing. As a society, we should be able to recognize the humanity of the unborn without reducing mothers to nothing more than incubators.
Where this technology will take us next is anyone’s guess. Just in case you thought this story was an aberration, since this couple had their son another same-sex couple in Texas had a baby using this same method.
 Sonia Azad, "Same-sex couple carries same 'miracle' baby in what may be fertility world first," USA Today Network, WFAA-TV, Dallas-Fort Worth, Published Oct. 29, 2018, Updated Nov. 3, 2018, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/10/29/same-sex-couple-carries-same-baby-ivf-fertility-treatment-first/1804554002/.
 European Parliament 2014-2019, 30.11.2015 Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2014 and the European Union’s policy on the matter (2015/2229(INI)) Committee on Foreign Affairs; http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+REPORT+A8-2015-0344+0+DOC+PDF+V0//E;
Children risk being ‘commodities’ as surrogacy spreads: UN expert, UNB NEWS Tuesday 06 March 2018; United Nations, General Assembly Distr.: General 15 January 2018 Original: English Human Rights Council Thirty-seventh session 26 February–23 March 2018 Agenda Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development Report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material, http://www.un.org/fr/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/HRC/37/60&TYPE=&referer=/french/&Lang=E.
 Sonia Azad, "Same-sex couple carries same 'miracle' baby in what may be fertility world first," USA Today Network, WFAA-TV, Dallas-Fort Worth, Published Oct. 29, 2018, Updated Nov. 3, 2018, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/10/29/same-sex-couple-carries-same-baby-ivf-f
Ana Brennan, J.D., is Vice-President of the Society of St. Sebastian and Senior Editor of the Journal of Bioethics in Law & Culture