Monday, March 23, 2009

In the future, we may need to make getting pregnant illegal

I was recently informed in a debate that my desire to eliminate suffering and disease, which included eliminating natural pregnancy, would take away some of those experiences which bring "indescribable happiness" to people. Presumably, we are to believe women experience some sort of incredible happiness not in having a child as such but in the experience of being pregnant in and of itself.

Many people in certain cultures get "indescribable happiness" from their cultural practices, which could include suppressing women, ritual sacrifice, rape, savage scarification of children, barbaric warfare with neighboring societies, and so on. They may genuinely feel bliss in tearing the still-beating heart out of an enemy's chest and taking a bite out of it. Simply because something is enjoyable to someone doesn't mean that that alone justifies it.

But let's just take it for granted that is true some women experience great pleasure in going through pregnancy, and that this would remain true even if synthetic wombs were available. Even so, this is still insufficient justification for insisting that, under circumstances where options that would be better for the child are available, women still be permitted to go through with natural pregnancy. Yes, I am actually suggesting that in the future we may need to ban women from getting pregnant. Allow me to explain why.

What I propose takes place in an advanced society in which we seek to minimize the risks and maximize the health and abilities of children. Synthetic wombs are, in principle, far superior to the environment women can provide, since that environment is invariably tied in with the risks the mother takes in living her own life while carrying the child to term. Any woman who doesn't spend her entire life in a coma in the most secluded part of the world is invariably going to put her body at risk, and no mother, no matter how diligent, can possibly provide her fetus the absolute maximum possible input of nutrients to maximize the child's development. It stands to reason than that if some alternative can, than the mother's natural reproductive system would be inferior in producing a healthy, well-developed child to this alternative. We all know that pregnant women are vulnerable to the very same things we are - poisons, toxins, radiation exposure, however minimal, merely from being exposed to the sun, risk of injury, etc. Furthermore, no mother can eat exactly the right foods in exactly the right proportions to deliver her child the maximum possible nutritive benefits. In principle, a synthetic womb could minimize all these risks.

So let's consider two possible options in a futuristic scenario. Keep in mind that these numbers are hypothetical, I'm not necessarily claiming that these are the actual statistics we should expect.

1) Natural Pregnancy Condition

Under this condition, a woman bears the child to term in her body. Let's suppose that in this futuristic society, the child has, over the course of the pregnancy, a 5% chance of termination due to biological problems in the mother or freak accidents (falling down stairs, car crash, etc.) , and a 5% chance of suffering from a significant deformity that would not be present in the synthetic womb condition. Furthermore, let's suppose that studies indicate that the inferior environment provided by a mother's womb on average compares with the synthetic womb condition by the children having a 4 point lower IQ, slightly lower birth weight, and a range of other minor, but statistically significant impairments over the synthetic womb condition.

2) Synthetic Womb Condition

Under this condition, the fetus is brought to term in an environment that simulates the womb. It is monitored by highly advanced artificial intelligence, a staff of trained experts, and a set of computers that monitor every environmental condition the fetus experiences. They deliver nutrition at an ideal rate, as well, provide ideal warmth, etc. They could even conceivably simulate mother-like interaction pre-birth if this has any impact on the child (such as a computerized voice copying a mother's and talking to the baby in a soothing way, for instance). Finally, the synthetic womb clinic would be located in an area that wasn't prone to environmental catastrophes like earthquakes or hurricanes, was in a relatively safe location to begin with, and was staffed with expert security. Under these conditions, let us suppose that the children on average score higher across the board in the health and intelligence areas as previously noted, and furthermore that their risk of termination is now only 0.05% and their risk of deformation or freak accidents is 0.01%.

Let us also consider that these programs have been going on for a while with an enormous amount of research on the differences between children born in the two conditions. Despite hundreds of studies, there is no statistically significant evidence that children born under synthetic womb conditions suffer any adverse affects, whether they be health-related, behavioral, emotional, psychological, or otherwise.

Now that I've laid out these two situations, which would you, as a mother, choose?

I argue that anyone who chooses option 1) if option 2) is as readily available is being grossly immoral. This would amount to putting your child at needless risk and intentionally impairing their health and cognitive abilities all because you want to enjoy the experience of being pregnant. To maintain that your pleasure trumps your child's health and potential is the height of selfishness and immorality.

I'd also like to add that someone has brought up a good point - that parental pair-bonding is an integral part of developing a parent-child relationship, and that synthetic wombs might make this difficult. This may be an important criticism. However, the problem with this is that we are insisting on maintaining a faulty reproductive system to suit a faulty parental bonding system. Why not just change both? There is nothing stopping us in principle from, first of all, encouraging parents to ignore these impulses which would of course be insufficient, but in general I think society could come to transcend a mentality largely dependent on evolutionary psychological proclivities. Even so, this doesn't satisfy me. This problem may therefore only be addressed by the general implementation of eugenics or transhumanistic advances that alter the human brain in such a way as to eliminate prior constraints on our method of bonding. We shouldn't use one limitation to justify constraining ourselves to a second one. Instead, we should work to eliminate both. This would have the secondary benefit of, among other things, making children of orphans more readily able to bond with new parents, who don't have psychological inclinations to prefer "their" offspring and then only in the context of being around them during their earliest development.

1 comment:

  1. "A God who could make good children as easily a bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave is angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice, and invented hell -- mouths mercy, and invented hell -- mouths Golden Rules and foregiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people, and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites his poor abused slave to worship him!"

    -- Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger