Future Uterus (Part 1): The ultimate designer accessory - an artificial womb?
This is an ABC podcast. Earner? Hello. This is science fiction on the Tesha Mitchell. In the Handmaid's tile, Margaret, Atwood has a totalitarian theocracy called Gilead where pregnancy gets outsourced forcibly and violently to the last remaining food are women cold hand mates. How was up within dumb? There. We healed. I know this is difficult for you. But you have done something extraordinarily you promised me. Take care of this. We'll hear on science fiction. I want you to imagine a different world. Is it easy? One way. Pregnancy ease outsourced, but to technology not Handmaid's. His mercy. She had tried one on ones years ago should wanted to understand what it felt like to wear one. But more than that as well. The appeal of it. The voice of character called Eva in novel called the growing season. It imagine 's a hypothetical future where babies could be growing inside a woman's body, but outside of the human body altogether in an artificial portable baby patch, it was before all the different textures were available though. There was a range of colors bright yellow should requested fluorescent like one of those tropical fish. Hello. Welcome to future uterus mini series, where I'm taking a wombs view of the future of reproduction. This is the equivalent of six months that told her as they let her strap it on over t shirt in the early days the full life. Doctors had helped people position it over the shoulders snug on the belly. But they realized it was making people nervous much better to do it yourself. They decided then you can see how easy it is. How versatile? How safe? Over the next few shows extraordinary, stories and extraordinary sites. You'll made a Swedish woman who received one of the world's first ever uterus transplants. The latest story will blow your mind who donated they uterus to what would the risks. Did it work thirteen children have been born now using this pioneering procedure, but it is raw with scientific and ethical challenges. Also, we're gonna look at tribalising efforts to construct an artificial womb that could help tiny precariously premature babies survive and thrive. What does it actually type to build a wound that works just like a real one? But look I'm kicking it all off with pure science fiction. The text Joe was almost butter soft, but padded and it slipped into place so easily it terrified her. Instead, she should've gone for a deep red like the color of the inside to remind yourself of what it really was to make sure she didn't slip quietly into feeling at ease with it. Even though there was no baby inside the trial pout. She was wearing. She knew she could let herself relax Ellen sage week is physicist and a bio engineer tuned, novelist. And she wants you to try on a baby patch for solids. The pouch it self is fluid filled. Flexible, warm, pouched, you strap on almost like a sort of rucksack, I suppose, but it sits around your front sits on your belly exactly where pregnant belly would be, and you strap it on your shoulders and vowed your back, so it's very comfortable and secure on you, and you can carry it like that you can feel the baby kicking through the membranes of it. You can stroke, it, you can you can sing to your baby and things like that there were various adapters. So that you can talk to through a special adapter, and it's fed with nutrients, the nutrients can be specially designed for your genetic makeup. So you can feel incredibly close to the baby and a different times to the book. We see people wearing it and kinda stroking cuddling it and feeling really predict protective of their child inside. So it's it's a very personal tactile experience for the parents. They can be shared by men and women it can be shed with all the family members. If you won't in my society. It's quite rare. At it's presented as being much healthier for the baby for the fetus as well. It's almost become a designer autumn hasn't it? It's almost aficionados is baby. You can choose for example, different different styles different covers different textures for it. There have been photos in the press of celebrities wearing these pouches and having twins wearing matching pouches and things like that. It's become really trendy for the kids wearing these pouches. We don't have babies and yet, but but wearing them and trying them on his own come like having the latest smartphone. She could almost be forgiven for thinking we're talking about something that actually exists. It's an incredibly sort of tactile, and and comforting personal experience holding a pouch can say that you had a lot of fun imagining this possibility I think it's wonderful don't let her keyed. You the baby patch is not real not yet. Anyway, Dr Helen sage week sick. And novel the growing season is a sci-fi thriller of sorts in which she creates well, it's a world not unlike owned, but it's one way of portable wombs are now the norm when normal pregnancy is stigmatized, and we're cooperating trysts have come to control the technology of reproduction. Well, it's a well. That's very recognizable. I think but the big differences that in the nineteen seventies and invention meant women no longer have to be pregnant instead they can transfer their embryo into a pouch which is flexible, it's portable and. It's individualized. So it can be carried by the mother the father on this has been widely accepted throughout society. That one change has led to various all the changes sort of trickle through in the society. I can remember the day. I got the first idea for it. I was talking with some friends about why feminism given women complete equality yet. Why we still didn't have equal representation at board level, for example, business and politics and science why women were still expected to do the bulk of the childcare and one of the reasons I think for me anyway, is that women is still having the children the still going to be expected to be the primary cares. So I saw to think about what would be needed to really bring about a fundamental shift in the way, we think about women's role in society to bring about very meaningful change and came up with this idea of sort of pouch. So that women wouldn't need to be pregnant. So that the child bearing can be equally shared between women and men, and if that were the case would suddenly we have flexible working conditions and shared, parental leave. And so on. The pouch had become trendy especially among the young. Why wait when you could study part time and still have your career? Now parenthood was equal. And it came in such pretty covers her mother didn't know what it was like to receive a letter she'd been getting for years now the pouch was beautiful that it had changed the world for the better that everyone was equal. Now, we had moved beyond natural birth. They could help her that they wanted to help her. The pouches had no doubts anymore. They were happy the women and the men they were happy. And I was getting very carried away. I thought this was a brilliant idea. I could see how it would work. I thought solved all problems, and I looked over at my friend, and she looked absolutely horrified. You know, she said to me Helen that is a terrible idea. And I thought oh, that's really interesting moment. What horrified your friend? I think she she heard me describing the end of women almost, you know, taking something that is deeply important identity and removing it from us, and basically giving it to men I think. It's an idea that kind before feminism didn't it in the nineteen twenties. British biologist jibe ES held. Entertained the possibility he was a close friend of oldest Huxley of Brive knee will find what was he's idea. What was his prediction? He's brave new world prediction in the nineteen twenties. He had many actually he was a Bala just geneticist a mathematician. But in particular, he said, he thought one of the biggest changes was that human beings would take control of their own volition. So a combination of what he called sort of designed mutation and actor Genesis, and he was the first person to use that term actor Genesis, my idea was what led onto brave new world, and inspired Huxley's ideas. Brave new world is the bane of my existence. I love the book. Absolutely love it. It's probably one of my favorite books. But it is the thing that I come across the Marist when I'm making speeches about Genesis, and how it would help the rights of women and the health of infants. Hi, I'm E kindle, Emma lecturer by with and healthy Menotti's at the Deakin University School of medicine, and Dr kindle, imagine science fiction becoming the realm of. The pulsa Bolshie makes a strong philosophical case full what's called after. Genesis. In fact, she did a whole day and wrote a book about its prospects. Genesis is unofficial womb technology that can include artificial wombs that are intended to just state infants from conception presumably through IVF right through to delivery oversold or it could mean partial exa Genesis, which would include the humidity of technology that we already have for premature infants so, of course, there's something in between that space which would be if a fetus needed to be delivered very early from a pregnant woman, but she didn't want to terminate the life of that Fatus for whatever reason it could be transferred into an artificial worm. So Genesis covers all of that. So brave new world. Of course, we have acted Genesis being used it's described in quite a bit of detail. What was he's imagining of it. His imagining was growing, essentially. Joins in little jaws. And then the embryos that in the jaws would be on simply line, and they would be subjected to social conditioning to make them the perfect alpha beta gamma, delta Epsilon Kloss, which he meant certain career choices. So if you down the bottom of the social hierarchy, you might do menial labor, and you would be developed in such a way that that would make you happy. So you would never dream of being anything other than what you would designed to be in. This is logically and socially engineering. Yes species is generally presented as a dystopia in in point for humanity. In my experience. Genesis is typically using a negative way in a lot of science fiction. So I find it very interesting. The brave new world is cited so often when something like much PSE's woman on the edge of time isn't where ACTA Genesis is used to achieve sexual quality. In reproduction. So it's a positive use at the technology. She imagined a society where she describes it as the nuclear Bondi's Bergen. So we don't have inequality across the sexes on the basis of reproduction. So they have children using to Genesis, and then they don't have biological families at all. So the child would be given to co mothers as they call them. So I usually there's three they can be any Genda, and they will be responsible primarily for that child. Which is a very interesting way of looking at the family unit. Suri's av candle for some perhaps you that scenario in the nineteen seventy six oval women on the age of Tom sounds fairly apocalyptic more from av KENDALL next episode of our science for a mini series future uterus. But in Helen situates recent novel, the growing season that nuclear boned between parent and child reminding tact. When I set out to the. The book was I was very clear in my mind that I did not want to ride to the stop here at all. I actually set out to write a utopian fiction. So I describe site that is almost everything that I want in the beginning. And then bit by bit you, see the problems that are also there that are being kept out of you. But certainly on the surface. It has brought about a big change men really enjoy carrying pouch fathers feeding closer to that to their children than ever before. The pouch itself. Allowed him have an intimacy with his son that he wouldn't have otherwise had to feel what it was like to carry an unborn child his tiny fists pressing against his belly. There was nothing like it. It written Holly about once that live not far from each other. And she was famous. So he knew which house was hers. Even though they haven't met at that stage. The first woman ever to use the parents. Even now he occasionally felt a little in all of. He'd been far too embarrassed to talk in person, but he wants to tell their how wonderful it was for a man for two men how life changing. It was a gift it written. And he didn't know if he deserved it. And almost because men are now demanding better rights as parents that equality is come into force throughout throughout the workplace throughout politics throughout education as well. So now men and women equally offered really good parental leave flexible working conditions. You can study part time every company university would have crushes available childcare available things like that. But it's a company cold fool off that holds the patient for the baby punch technology and through that they've come to control the entire health system. No more public health. It's all gone. Although none of that was anti supplied by the brilliant. Scientist a character coal freighter who I created the official womb. It wasn't until after I built my first living cell chamber that I heard hold speak at the Royal Society. He sounded smooth and shirt as he talked about genetics and Bioserve disticts wearing a navy blazer with distinctive white stripes and that full moustache. It was almost a surprise. He wasn't holding a pipe was something of a celebrity already being such close friends with all this Huxley. But it took me a moment to realize what he meant when he started going on about echo. Genesis. I haven't read brave new world for the best say so is he talked about external wounds and selective. Breeding and child production rates. I thought to myself. No, no, no, that's all long. That's such a man's way of seeing a woman's world. It's never going to be about mass production in all this metrical sterility of laboratory, no human beings. If nothing else need to feel like individuals, and he changed must allow for the individuals to remain an intrinsic part of their own we production or it will fail. I wanted to create a liberating you form of pregnancy at. Genuine equality a move reliable bond between parents and child. In that moment. I realized that my work was intensely personal. That was why was the one who would succeed. So fifty years prior to when we make the characters in your book the growing season. Holy has been the first to carry a child to full term in this baby. Patch granddaughter Rosie is about to use the patch to have her first child in the book was share saved at the time as the first woman the frontier of this new technology by some she was hailed as a hero. And there was a lot of press coverage. She was almost catapulted to celebrity for doing this. But there was also a reaction against it. So she was sort of attacked on the street. People would shout her for being so our natural. You know, for stealing the sense of what it is to be a woman and things like that. So it wasn't an easy path for her. But what again what for life have done rather cleverly is that they offered her big financial incentives. She comes from a very poor background on the off to a lot of money for doing this and that combined with the sort of celebrity. That came with it has met her whole life was transformed. And that's been part of why the pouch has become so successful. Because I had this figurehead who everyone loved, you know, who everyone really warm to who is showing pouch births. Is this wonderful thing you can do to create this really happy family. So yeah, it's quite as quite psychological the way, they essentially manipulated her own becoming what they needed to promote the power. It's a great example of corporate genius. And so it was natural booth. Viewed in this world. It's come to be to something that's quite irresponsible. So one of the other strands of full life marketing the pouch presented as being a much safe old. There's no more of this telling mothers, they mustn't mustn't eat, certain foods or mustn't drink this Matt or the pouch provides the perfect conditions for the baby it provides exactly the nutrients that they need, and they can be tailored to the to the parents genetic makeup as well. It's the most healthy way, you can have a baby. And so women who choose to have a baby using natural birth as I call it in the book, a sort of sort of donors, quite irresponsible. Mothers by a lot of society. What's interesting here is this becomes a very potent exploration of how radical new technologies reproductive technologies in this case are introduced a controversial, but then become normalized, then become mainstream then become accepted over time bomb water society, and that's the case with the baby patch, but there is resistance it's ever so minor. And it's his Bailey hood, and that's where we meet Eva, an activist and who light mother. Have ago. What role did you want them to play in the book in terms of civil society? Either is is the main protagonist, really. So I wanted her to be one of us s booze. She's she's how we would feel if we were suddenly thrust into this world, I think, but she's also she's self was had a very complicated experience with birth. So she's she's presenting the the counter argument to Holly's fame unhappiness, but she's also someone who's who's willing to change. And I think that's really important for the book. And if I had all the characters at different times confronted with the office, it of their own point of view, and are able to listen to it and either it's someone who learns to do that throughout the book, and we don't want to give too much away about the story. Rate it she's a complex character. And there's a love to Beck story, which you slowly reveal throughout the growing season. But let's just give people of a fly for of the insights that she glean 's because always not as rosy as it seems what knows social problems what social divides is this baby patch generating well, one of the big ones full life, the decision to offer the pouch as an alternative to abortion. So if anybody is considering abortion full life will offer them at pouch for free instead to save the life, essentially of their baby, and this has led to the pouch being embraced by sort of right wing and religious fundamentals and people like that as well as people on the left who want equality, and and liberation for women who have gone all the way. We've we've conservatives couldn't it. Absolutely. And that's. And that's that's an interesting and frightening thought really, isn't it because essentially who controls these pouches and has control over over the the lives really of the of the babies within and to some extent the parents to and it's led to care crisis throughout society. So there are now care homes almost like often aeges and they're full of babies who've been born Vira pouch, but whose parents don't want to raise them, so they kept in these sort of often or boarding schools outside of the the city's no one really knows what people know that. But they don't like to talk about them. They don't know what to do with with all these children. So that's a massive problem for society. And I think it's a problem that will will lead to think about as as technology gets closer to what I'm describing the book, which it will. There's also a class divide this coming up between people who've been born Vira pouch and people who've been born naturally and also people have been born Vira pouch, which had all the most expensive accessories. Versus people who've been born Vira secondhand pouch, which is seen as inferior and in debut black market in used pouches. Yes, that's right because it's a biological technology. It can essentially heal itself. So after it's been used in a baby can be born. They can be recycled and used again, which is a bit achey think it's pretty weird. An even darker regain varies. There are suggestions of pouch abuse. Yes. What do you mean? Well, I suppose once you once you take her baby out of mother and put it in the world, it becomes vulnerable in a way. And this is something that full life have tried very hard not to have discussed publicly. But in the book, I show her an abusive or certainly controlling relationship in which man, the father of the child won't let his wife carry the pouch, for example. He wants all the time. He'll maybe kind of threatened her with what he might do to it. If he doesn't do what he says things like that. So I in in a very dark way, I could imagine if if people wanted to they could use it really to manipulate mothers to manipulate parents. There is a form ability about it. I think. Can imagine a wheel dystopia where the state then controls the babies once they're in the pouches. The state owns all the pouches and women have sort of become redundant and and individuals of lost their rights over their own production. Which is a very scary scary future. We talked briefly about about holiday earlier and to remind you that's jibe e is held in the British scientists, and friend of all this Huxley who in the nineteen twenties predicted the creation of artificial wombs. It was skeptical in a way, and he talked about how scientific advance could be used for bad as well as good. And that if it is to be used for good at has to be accompanied by an advance in our ethics as well. And I think that's absolutely essential. You know, when we bring out these new technologies, we have to think very deeply about how they're going to be used and make sure that we are protecting ourselves from misuse of technology is illustrated really beautifully in this book. Is you know, how it comes to pass that skeptics and activists around new technologies often become outcasts, they're often castigated or casters nutty or Luddites? This is a theory familiar dynamic around any social critique of. Science and technology very much. So yes, it's interesting. I I don't know why we do that. I don't know why we're so hostile to opposing points of view as a species will serve to constraints artifact progress, and that is disturbing to scientists. Yes. But it's not the scientists who paint people is not usually it's a media who does it. I think and that's what's happened here. Full life haven't needed to to attack Abigail either or ridicule them because the journalist and the book pure to has essentially done that for them. He's painted them as as loons because they don't embrace technology. And so it's it's the sort of tapping in on. I don't know I suppose we just want to believe that. We're right all the time. Don't we? And when somebody saying maybe done something very wrong, laughing at them is one of the best ways to silence them. Move move. It was still lying there attached. She had never imagined that the pouch Thad pouch wills home for nine months. They had stroked and spoken to and loved. She had never imagined that it could repulsed her the deep sucking read the inside of it visible now through that awful cops down the front wet and dripping the different skins the layers that had grown with him expanded with him the bio socket for the audio adapter useless now obscene and the umbilical cord. Get him out. She screamed adopter step forward. And she spun around furious not you get away from him. And so she reached in and cloth to the cord that was sticky and limp in her hands clasped and pulled and pulled as leaked on her fingers and fluid rundown. Her winced, but it wouldn't come out of the pouch lining. She screamed as she pulled. But it made no difference. She couldn't free him. Without waiting for a response. Hernani reached out and cut the cord and baby will was free at last. Something really bad happens in this book, and it gives you a sense that something is very wrong with these baby patches Bain corporate cover up of let problem. Yes. And there again, you have to wonder how we never got risk and progress and the relationship between the two when it comes to reproductive technologies we've seen it with VS. Now, we are saying uterus. Transplants occurring. We are say the development of artificial wombs to carry potentially carry premature babies to full term in a healthy way. So we are here and now already saying developments the mirror the storytelling. Absolutely. Yes. This isn't a book one hundred years in the future by any means technology. I described here I think could be with us within within a couple of generations, really really very close. I do -solutely you mentioned the artificial womb that so far. Has been used for premature lambs was invented by some scientists from Philadelphia they call it the bio bag, not the baby pouch. But interestingly used a similar sort of very very friendly sounding name for the bio bag, and they took a highly premature that wouldn't have survived otherwise were able to keep it alive within a fluid filled flexible pouch almost exactly like what I'm describing the book. It was born. It's still lives very healthy lamb now. So they predicted that will be ready for human trials within three years. We is now there's obviously a stopped from the moment of conception. It's premature babies, and I think they said it was twenty two weeks or something they were aiming for. But you know, what you take that? And then add to its technology. It's very easy to see how the two technologies will will fairly soon meet in the middle. And then we will have what we need to create a complete. External will the technology is coming. We will be able to do this absolutely certain that we will be able to create an artificial womb in the near future. And human beings. Once we can do something the chances. Are we going to do it? I think it's in our nature. And that is all exactly where we're heading in the next episodes of this future uterus series on science, friction. Maybe we should call. It futures think Dr Helen Sedgwick's novels the growing season and the comets acres. She did her doctorate in physics before finding fiction, and is now working on a crime trilogy that a publisher has snapped up, and she's just infected grown heroin baby. To my daughter's only only eleven months old you've just gone through these I have had a patch. I'm fortunately, did you about the page? Oh, I did. I would definitely have used a pouch personally. I'm a big believer in science and medicine for making our lives better. I absolutely believe in in the value of of medicine and technology. And that's not say, it wasn't an amazing experience. Because in many ways it was. It's a fascinating thing to go through. But yes, I would use the pouch if I could. But as soon as you're pregnant, actually, you become confronted with with the inequality, and it's often by well, meaning people, but it's just this attitude that somehow become a mother you're carrying a baby you're not the same as as other people anymore. You've become something else. And I felt it all the time really every day that I was pregnant and every day since and consider Helen also the beginning of occasional series called novel sons, featuring novelists or scientists tuned novelists really playing with centime provocative wise in their writing next. You're going to meet one of the world's first recipients of uterus. Transplanting that she describes that uterus as sisters baby beg, which is kind of reminiscent of today's stories, and it which is really quite surreal. But this is a real life story. 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