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graphic of an artificial womb

Artificial wombs are moving from the realm of science fiction to possible trials with severely premature human babies. We are excited about the great potential benefits of this technology; however, with fetal rights now a political front in the abortion debate, we believe that society must address the ethical and legal implications well before those clinical trials begin.

Globally, preterm birth is the leading cause of death in children under age five. An artificial womb could provide severely premature newborns with an environment like the uterus by suspending the fetus in a flexible container filled with lab-made amniotic fluid. This innovation—so far tested only in animals—might mitigate or even prevent complications of prematurity by allowing the fetus’s underdeveloped heart and lungs to continue to grow.

An advisory panel of the U.S Food and Drug Administration is now considering whether to permit those first in-human clinical trials, despite only limited success in animal trials. Currently, from a bioethical perspective, it is not clear that animal models provide enough evidence to move forward with human trials. However, if...