The biobag

We have all been reminded about the terrible things our ancestors – essentially like us – have done in history. The obvious example is the economic benefit we earned through the slave trade. We can immediately recognise its wickedness today. And we have to realise that many of us would have at least accepted it had we lived at that time. But before we rush out to destroy the statues of public figures who took part, we need to ask ourselves whether there are any accepted public activities today which, on examination, are clearly evil.

I hardly dare to mention the question of abortion. It seems extraordinary to me that our society accepts that children in the womb can be destroyed at the wish of the mother. Don’t bother to rush to your computer with your arguments — I have read them all. A case might be made for a situation where the mother is in danger of death and that that would necessarily also lead to the death of the unborn child. Otherwise, we are simply talking about murder. You can pass any law you like — it remains murder.

But another issue has come into the question. That is the possibility of removing the baby from the womb at an early stage and to put him or her into an artificial womb (called a biobag) in which it can receive all that it needs until it is ready to be ‘born’.

If I were a baby, I would certainly prefer to be put into a biobag rather than to be left to expire. But the whole concept might well lead to major changes in society. Without doubt, women’s careers are disadvantaged by the process of pregnancy: the biobag leads to real equality between men and women. Perhaps twenty years from now the requirement of pregnancy as a nine month’s condition will effectively have disappeared.

What will be the effects of that? I assume that maternal instincts will not develop in the same way. Maternal milk, and the psychological element of breastfeeding, will no longer occur. A mother wishing to have more children could arrange to have them all over a shorter period of time – perhaps in the same year. The shared duties of husband and wife will affect their relationship in a fundamental way – will this be good or bad?

A somewhat different effect may occur in the freedom of abortion as it occurs nowadays. The current claim that a woman may choose abortion because she is entitled to decide what happens to her own body looks even thinner when the baby can continue to grow outside her body. We may assume that the NHS will pick up the costs since it is a human being in need of medical care. But, following Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1930s), the State will take over these new citizens, bringing them up in its own standards for ideal citizens.

What do you think?

See Sex Robots & Vegan Meat by Jenny Kleeman. Picador. Listen to Woman’s Hour 1st August 2020

About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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29 Responses to The biobag

  1. Alan says:

    “If I were a baby, I would certainly prefer to be put into a biobag rather than to be left to expire.”

    Depending on what I could know before expressing a preference I don’t think I would always opt for a biobag (or a womb for that matter). In an imagined scenario where I could understand my choice and I could perhaps have a chat with the doctor before deciding I might well prefer an early death. If my prospects were likely to be nothing but pain, misery and then death, I’d prefer to skip the pain and the misery. I’ve seen the question “Who speaks for the baby/unborn?” asked more than a few times. Those who ask it don’t ever seem to represent the voice I imagine I would have had at that point. That’s not to suggest that I’ve any complaints about my life at all. Quite the opposite. But not all the alternatives to my comfortable existence seem preferable to non-existence to me. And I’ve a feeling it’s not just the worst of imaginable cases that would sway me.

    • George says:

      Alan: “In an imagined scenario where I could understand my choice and I could perhaps have a chat with the doctor before deciding I might well prefer an early death.” It’s tempting to dodge the issue here by asking you how many cases you know of where a child in the womb is doomed inevitably to nothing but pain and misery before death. After all, we can all think of cases where people have disabilities which seem horrendous but nevertheless have fulfilled lives. However this is dodging the issue, because even in such cases I think the life, even if painful and miserable, has a value. That’s easier for a Christian to accept, I know, because for us the life on earth is nothing but an upbeat at the start of an everlasting great symphony. But I think even non-Christians should accept that at least our instincts (which, in the end, are all we have to go on for making moral judgments) are in favour of placing a value on life, even a painful and miserable life. Even people who are in constant pain and have every reason for misery (such as many of the old and lonely) do not usually want to die, and if the government were to propose compulsory euthanasia they, and we, would object. Why should we object, unless their lives had a value?

      Another question I would ask is whether you would think it OK to kill children who have nothing but pain and misery before them if they have already been born, but are not old enough to express an opinion.

  2. galerimo says:

    You offer an exciting idea here to someone who loves putting up statues as much as he loves tearing them down.

    My first stature would be St Antoninus, an Archbishop of Florence and hailed as a great theologian by Pope Pius II. He favours abortion to save the life of the mother. Raising the question about the intrinsic value of life – does it become less intrinsically valuable when it becomes pregnant?

    Pro-choice like to claim his Catholic patronage in their cause.

    Those who see “biobag” as just another name for “woman” would be the ones to pull this statue down – for them birthing can only mean the one thing-seeing the biology through to the end whether it results from violation or is going to lead to certain misery.

    Lead the way here Donald!

    Next would be my statue to Simone de Beauvoir, the great liberator of the feminine who believed in freedom for women at every step in life. Receiving her early education from Catholic nuns she made no secret that abortion too was a fact in her own personal life.

    Catholic women are as numerous in resorting to abortion as non Catholics.

    Those who would pull this one down would be the predominant male adherents to the toxic patriarchy of our culture. The men who only want women to conform to their self-promoting ideology of oppression – especially when it comes to their own female bodies.

    The third statue would be to the great Catholic social activist, Dorothy Day, having also had an abortion Dorothy is an outstanding woman in the Catholic Church remembered today for her great contribution to Catholic Worker movement.

    The same stale, pale males would also be lining up to pull her off her plinth – the ones that formed the lynch gangs of history to burn witches, blacks and people aspiring to the freedom that goes with full personhood, and all because they felt Jesus was telling them to.

    There are those whose objection to pro life are chiefly founded on the ranks of fanatics it forces them to join.

    And my last memorial would be for the women who, in line with their God given consciences and firm belief in what is right, lost their lives because the abortion they had to give themselves up to was not safe because the predominantly male culture and legislature made it illegal and therefore deadly for them to do so.

    Conscience is sacred and has the final say.

    I can see the crowd raging with anger as they seek to pull this one down,

    but also I see a man who steps up to confront them as he did once before – his presence alone exposes the hypocrisy of all of us – he has the final word above these fanatics who use the cause of life as a front for their sheer hatred and bigotry

    – and how wonderful to hear him ask “has anyone condemned you?’

    • George says:

      galerimo: “There are those whose objection to pro life are chiefly founded on the ranks of fanatics it forces them to join.” Sadly, yes. The great “saints” of the Enlightenment, like David Hume or Bertrand Russell, would be sorely distressed how many have now so forgotten any notion they ever had of thinking rationally about moral problems for themselves that they judge a moral idea not by any kind of reasoning but by considering what objectionable beliefs certain individuals on one side or another hold. It’s on the same level as “we shouldn’t care about animal welfare because Hitler did”.

      I very much doubt whether you can find any published statements from a reputable source indicating that Dorothy Day supported the right of a mother to have her unborn child killed, but even if you could it wouldn’t actually change my mind. There are many people I greatly respect with whom I disagree on abortion.

    • milliganp says:

      Remember the woman at the well. He didn’t condemn her but definitely didn’t endorse her “lifestyle choices”.

  3. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2020/08/03/the-biobag/ ):

    // But before we rush out to destroy the statues of public figures who took part, we need to ask ourselves whether there are any accepted public activities today which, on examination, are clearly evil. //

    There must be many. It’s unlikely that any normally reasonable person fifty years ago would have considered any of the Woke grab bag of evils (other than slavery) to be evil. We can’t know what our descendants will consider either acceptable or despicable. Popular morality changes with the weather.

    • milliganp says:

      As far as I am aware, there is no historical evidence of any decadent culture surviving a generation.
      Entirely off-topic I’m currently watching a cohort of woke BBC reporters decrying the current A level process. The standard question is “will you – minister X – apologise to the children denied entry to university because they attend a school with no history of success” – (my phrase)
      I don’t hear a BBC reporter decrying the problems caused by failing to help our children have realistic expectations who then go on to a life encumbered with student debt and a meaningless degree which offers few career prospects.

      • George says:

        “there is no historical evidence of any decadent culture surviving a generation.” I think there was quite a lot of decadence in the Roman Empire which nevertheless managed to keep going quite a few generations. Once a culture has established dominance it takes quite a while for the Vandals and Goths to roll up and take over. We could add the Byzantines if you want the decadence to continue for another 10 centuries.

  4. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2020/08/03/the-biobag/ ):

    // It seems extraordinary to me that our society accepts that children in the womb can be destroyed at the wish of the mother. //

    N’est-ce pas? But this change bids fair, I’m afraid, to be permanent in both official and popular morality. One reason for that is that the traditional Christian God has disappeared from the wide world, and another is that his place has been taken by the four gods of pragmatism, scientism, materialism, and hedonism. Whatever’s deemed acceptable in future will have to pass muster with this quartet. If it’s inconvenient (pragmatism), illogical (scientism), untouchable (materialism), or unpleasant (hedonism) it just won’t fly.

    • milliganp says:

      Sorry, David, I’m reading out of order. I concur with your modern gods but object to your claim that this merely the rejection of the Christian God, almost all cultures and civilisations have, heretofore, had some common values – particularly around the family. As someone who will probably soon join my parents and grandparents, I long to be part of a culture that values ancestors. I Defer to Chesterton’s Ethics of Elfland …
      “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.”

  5. FZM says:

    Whatever’s deemed acceptable in future will have to pass muster with this quartet. If it’s inconvenient (pragmatism), illogical (scientism), untouchable (materialism), or unpleasant (hedonism) it just won’t fly.

    They are going after scientism at least now, because it is White Supremacy:

    https://newdiscourses.com/2020/08/2-plus-2-never-equals-5/

    A long detailed essay defending the idea that 2+2 can never equal 5 and the attempts of the Critical Theory types to argue that it can, and that 2+2=4 is an oppressive and exclusionary discourse.

  6. Hock says:

    Galerimo only quotes a part of what Jesus said by his comment “how wonderful to hear him ask “has anyone condemned you?’

    We tend to forget the next bit: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” Jesus also repeated the commandments including the one about killing.

  7. Iona says:

    I would think we are a very long way from a biobag being a possibility. The placental link between mother and child is a complex one, and couldn’t be interrupted (for the transplant to take place) without a cessation of oxygen and nourishment to the child likely to prove fatal within minutes. However, what do I know? – I didn’t hear Quentin’s Woman’s Hour link, nor have I read the book he mentions.
    Even if it were possible, the cessation of communication between mother and child via hormones transmitted through the bloodstream would have major consequences, probably undesirable. Maternal bonding, promoted by the hormone oxytocin, would be at least weakened. All the benefits of breastfeeding would be lost. The baby in the womb is able to hear the sounds going on in his/her parents’ world, and already at birth responds differently to his/her parents’ voices, which have become familiar to him/her (my grandson, as a newborn, didn’t “startle” when the family dog barked, though he did startle at other sudden loud noises). “A little stranger” s/he would be, indeed.

  8. FZM says:

    The current claim that a woman may choose abortion because she is entitled to decide what happens to her own body looks even thinner when the baby can continue to grow outside her body. 

    It is interesting that there has been some change in the arguments around abortion. In the past I remember ‘liberal’ (about natural rights of individuals) secular arguments which revolved around a ‘lesser of two evils’ concept and questions around the personhood of the foetus at different stages of its development. These kind of arguments seem to have been the basis of a lot of modern abortion laws. All these arguments are contestable and in many cases not available to religious believers but seem to provide the best kind of secular justification for abortion being legally available.

    At some point it looks like a different kind of argument started to appear, the radical autonomy argument mentioned above. A noticeable thing about this one is that radical personal autonomy wasn’t understood as the kind of self ownership idea radical libertarians support, because the people supporting it usually seemed ready to allow all kinds of collectivist restrictions on other people and their lives provided they weren’t pregnant women.

    The basis of this argument appears to lie in feminist identity politics and doesn’t involve arguing that the foetus is not a person and so lacks individual rights (because this is implausible beyond a certain point in foetal development even from a secular point of view), nor is it a lesser of two evils argument, because in many cases in developed Western countries this is getting generally harder to argue for. The issue of birth rates being so low that many countries will apparently start to experience serious problems relating to demographic winters is another type of challenge to this approach.

    Instead, the argument seems to be that women as an identity group are collectively oppressed, therefore anything they do to achieve liberation is justifiable. This kind of argument seems to be the one that is closest in spirit to the past arguments for slavery, revolutionary Marxism and radical racialism.

  9. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes:

    // If I were a baby, I would certainly prefer to be put into a biobag rather than to be left to expire. But the whole concept might well lead to major changes in society. //

    Oh my goodness, yes. Any major technological change will set off an avalanche of unintended consequences. Printing, antisepsis, surgical anesthesia, radio, the automobile, the airplane, television, the integrated circuit, the contraceptive pill, and the internet have, individually and collectively, changed radically the nature of the human being in community.

    // I assume that maternal instincts will not develop in the same way. //

    Assuredly. Easy divorce, easy contraception, and easy abortion changed motherhood from a vital and integral part of life into something optional and ancillary. Breast feeding had already become optional. Motherhood, for many or most, was now a part-time occupation, as it had been before only for the leisured classes.

    Removing gestation from the list of physical and psychological burdens on the mother will be an irresistible selling point for the widespread adoption of the mechanical womb. How can it not?

    Last to go will likely be the concept of motherhood itself. In “Brave New World”, people are raised in hatcheries and the word “mother” is an obscenity.

  10. David Smith says:

    FZM writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2020/08/03/the-biobag/#comment-60665 ):

    // The issue of birth rates being so low that many countries will apparently start to experience serious problems relating to demographic winters is another type of challenge to this approach. //

    But the more recently developed position –

    // that women as an identity group are collectively oppressed, therefore anything they do to achieve liberation is justifiable //

    – should be questionable on grounds that in an egalitarian society any position grounded in a belief in private ownership of anything – which necessarily includes one’s body – must be wrong. But perhaps correct thinking feminists aren’t obliged to be egalitarian. Feminism seems to me based on an abstraction of “all women”, rather than on individual women, and so individual women must simply never come into their arguments. I can imagine, therefore, that the correct thinking modern feminist could be comfortable with the state’s having the last word on whether or not an individual woman should have an abortion, so long as the state in question is composed only of women.

    As far as the threat of a state’s facing demographic winter is concerned, that’s a concern only to people who want to retain a nation’s traditional culture. Modern feminists surely don’t belong to that camp.

  11. Geordie says:

    I can’t help thinking that the Corvid 19 plague is an indirect result of the worldwide, wilful destruction of human beings in the womb, together with all the other evils which seem to grip the modern world. I believe it is caused by the rejection of God. Mankind refuses His help and guidance. God is a nuisance who tries to limit our hedonistic lives by giving us commandments which just don’t fit into our modern, progressive ways of thinking. Those people who try to tell us to live a moral life are bitter bigots who try to control our lives.
    God doesn’t force Himself on to us, but if we reject Him, we have to accept the consequences. If we want His help, we must change our lifestyles. Modern science claims to be the answer to our problems but it has failed miserably this time. It has failed many times in the past but atheists still claim it has all the answers. It is no wonder that young people have mental health problems, when they live in this moral maze.

  12. David Smith says:

    Geordie writes:

    // I can’t help thinking that the Corvid 19 plague is an indirect result of the worldwide, wilful destruction of human beings in the womb, together with all the other evils which seem to grip the modern world. I believe it is caused by the rejection of God. //

    I agree. In rejecting the traditional Christian God, our society has rejected much of traditional morality and ethics. Without those, we’re morally and ethically adrift, without a compass and without even a clear understanding of the meaning of life. God help us.

  13. meanderingsontheway says:

    So you really think that God’s answer to our plight is to kill off a few of our old people? Hmmm, run that by me again please…

    • Geordie says:

      Strange logic “meanderingsontheway”. No I don’t think that is God’s answer and I didn’t say it was.

    • David Smith says:

      meanderingsontheway writes:

      // So you really think that God’s answer to our plight is to kill off a few of our old people? //

      Neither of us said that, m.

      Geordie wrote:

      // I can’t help thinking that the Corvid 19 plague is an indirect result of the worldwide, wilful destruction of human beings in the womb, together with all the other evils which seem to grip the modern world. //

      Note the word “indirect”. If you leave it out, that *could* be interpreted as saying pretty much what I suspect you read. Words matter :o)

  14. meanderingsontheway says:

    Ok,Fella’s, Excuse my misreadings and lack of wisdom. But could explain to me how you manage to arrive at this, even remotely and utterly tangental relationship, between abortion, God and Covid 19?
    Also, how, having formulated such a strange concantenation of thinking, you then manage in the very next sentence to disown them from having anything to to with this God of yours- whom you have just credited, albeit indirectly, as being involved in the result?

  15. FZM says:

    Ok,Fella’s, Excuse my misreadings and lack of wisdom. But could explain to me how you manage to arrive at this, even remotely and utterly tangental relationship, between abortion, God and Covid 19?
    Also, how, having formulated such a strange concantenation of thinking, you then manage in the very next sentence to disown them from having anything to to with this God of yours- whom you have just credited, albeit indirectly, as being involved in the result?

    If you can entertain the idea of group selection operating in human evolution this connection can be explained.

  16. Geordie says:

    Dear meanderingsontheway,
    I think I can explain my reasoning by giving a couple of examples. God has given us His instructions on how to live a moral life. If we disobey His commandments then, then we have to accept the consequences.
    Example 1: If human beings followed God’s instruction with regard to sex, they would live their lives not committing adultery. They would remain faithful to their spouses. The result would mean that STDs would not occur.
    Example 2: If we all loved one another the evil of war would be avoided. Violence would cease.

    We reject God’s guidance at our peril.

    These arguments can become very complex but in the past our ancestors have considered plagues and disasters as God’s punishment for sin. I don’t particularly believe these ideas to be true but I do think the human race brings crises on itself by rejecting God.

    • milliganp says:

      You could say that but-
      You could blame human beings for many but not all lung cancer cases but does God punish married women by inflicting breast and cervical cancer more on women who have allowed marital sex rather than women who never have sex?
      As for war, Jewish and Christian history has a hard case to answer.

      Like most of the posts of this blog, both of these are essentially off-topic but that’s another flaw in human nature.

  17. milliganp says:

    I’ve done a bit or research on the biobag topic and it would seem to only offer hope for late term abortions – presuming the mother was willing to ‘deliver’ by cesarean section. So it only offers an option for women who’ve already carried for 20 weeks+.
    We might be in the territory of “hard cases make bad law”. If I allow the few cases where a biobag might offer hope I might be allowing the many cases where it does not.
    The essential problem is the rejection of any concept based on natural law and the traditional family. I, for one, would rather spend my meagre abilities arguing for the family rather than against abortion,

  18. ignatius says:

    “Like most of the posts of this blog, both of these are essentially off-topic but that’s another flaw in human nature…”
    Yes, this one has certainly been rather a wierd little jaunt I must agree.

  19. David Smith says:

    milliganp writes: ( https://secondsightblog.net/2020/08/03/the-biobag/#comment-60776 ):

    // I Defer to Chesterton’s Ethics of Elfland …
    “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. //

    Thanks. I’d not thought of it that way. It rings true. So much is lost when a culture turns, as ours seems decisively to have turned, to regarding our forebears as uniformly ignorant, misguided, often evil, and certainly of no enduring importance.

    In the context of the subject under consideration here, the establishment that’s currently in the driver’s seat, with a firm control over the education system and dedicated to passing its tradition-free philosophy on to future generations, sees life simply as something for science – and science alone – to manage. Making babies, they believe, is merely a matter of mixing egg, sperm, and the correct chemicals in a controlled environment for a certain amount of time. Where it happens is unimportant.

  20. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes:

    // But another issue has come into the question. That is the possibility of removing the baby from the womb at an early stage and to put him or her into an artificial womb (called a biobag) in which it can receive all that it needs until it is ready to be ‘born’. //

    Where would the Church stand on this? In a sense, the mechanics seem to be pretty much the same thing as treating a normally developing baby – excuse me, a normally developing foetus – as though it were a baby/foetus born prematurely and placed into an incubator. In other words, it’s really nothing new. Almost. But not quite. How might Catholic theologians divide out? Catholic bioethicists? Surely it’s been thought of and discussed and written about.

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