Baby interrupted

Car frostFrancesca Minerva and me have a new paper out: Cryopreservation of Embryos and Fetuses as a Future Option for Family Planning Purposes (Journal of Evolution and Technology – Vol. 25 Issue 1 – April 2015 – pgs 17-30).

Basically, we analyse the ethics of cryopreserving fetuses, especially as an alternative to abortion. While technologically we do not have any means to bring a separated (yet alone cryopreserved) fetus to term yet, it is not inconceivable that advances in ectogenesis (artificial wombs) or biotechnological production of artificial placentas allowing reinplantation could be achieved. And a cryopreserved fetus would have all the time in the world, just like an adult cryonics patient.

It is interesting to see how many of the standard ethical arguments against abortion fare when dealing with cryopreservation. There is no killing, personhood is not affected, there is no loss of value of the future – just a long delay. One might be concerned that fetuses will not be reinplanted but just left in limbo forever, but clearly this is a better state than being irreversibly aborted: cryopreservation can (eventually) be reversed. I think our paper shows that (regardless of what one thinks of cryonics) the irreversibility is the key ethical issue in abortion.

In the end, it will likely take a long time before this is a viable option. But it seems that there are good reasons to consider cryopreservation and reinplantation of fetuses: animal husbandry, space colonisation, various medical treatments (consider “interrupting” an ongoing pregnancy because the mother needs cytostatic treament), and now this family planning reason.

6 thoughts on “Baby interrupted

  1. “there is no loss of value of the future” ????

    Needs rephrasing. If Einstein had been born 50 years later, then the future loses 50 years of progress.

    Also all the costs (human and monetary) of raising the child are moved into the future.

    The present generation also loses the opportunity to influence the development of the child.

    On the other hand, the future also has the opportunity to interfere with the foetus genetics and possibly produce a ‘better’ child. (By their standards, of course – not the present generation standards).

    1. And one can argue that one’s favorite evildoer born 50 years later improves progress. It essentially sums to zero since we do not know the child’s potential (and it is even affected by the displacement). The only things that seem to matter is whether adding *a* child to the present world or a future world is best, and that likely depends more on whether one thinks the world is getting better.

      1. That reply didn’t feel ‘right’ to me, but I hesitate to argue with an ethics professional. 🙂

        I think what made me uneasy was treating all foetuses as equivalent. As you say the future potential of each foetus is unknowable, therefore the consequences are also unknowable. There is no way of knowing whether you are freezing a future Einstein or a psychopath.
        Statistics don’t apply. You are making a particular decision with unknown consequences. I’d rather avoid decisions like that.

        Though deciding to bring up a child is a similar risk, in that case you have the opportunity to supervise the education and development. You are not abdicating all responsibility and costs/benefits to a future generation.

        1. Note that in the original context the choice is also between an abortion and storing the foetus for later. There is no way to avoid uncomfortable decisions in this domain.

          Abdicating responsibility is an interesting angle. One is abdicating responsibility both by abortion and by cryopreservation (but in the later case one could accede responsibility by resuscitation – it is not a permanent abdication). But by choosing to bring up a child in the present under what could be adverse social or emotional circumstances, one might also be abdicating responsibility by ignoring potentially good reasons for not having the child.

          Usually we tend to assume that actions that have simple outcomes represent less responsibility than actions where we are involved in complex outcomes. But if the complex situation is foreseeably *bad* and the simple action carries cost (imagining a ruler choosing between executing a captured rebellious noble or having to deal with a predictable civil war) then it makes sense to say that most of the taking responsibility actually happens in the choice of action. Uncertainty just lets us claim we cannot foresee consequences as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *