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Replotting the human: the thorny ethics of growing babies outside the womb

Science is getting nearer to producing babies outside the womb. The moral arguments will need to catch up fast

By Philip Ball   July 2021

In its worthy pursuit of what the philosopher Francis Bacon called “the relief of man’s estate,” science has a habit of creating previously unknown moral dilemmas. That’s nowhere more apparent than in the sciences pertaining to the beginning of human lives.

When IVF took off after the birth of Louise Brown in 1978, fertility doctors were faced with the question of what to do with embryos produced “in vitro”—that is, outside the womb—which would not, either because of their unviability or sheer excess in number, be implanted for gestation. Many were donated for embryological research, which has made huge strides as a result. But this has also complicated the already impassioned arguments—still unresolved—about the moral status of the human embryo.

Similar wrangles loom over the recent report in Nature by a team of scientists based in Israel who say that they can gestate mouse embryos in glass…

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