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Artificial Wombs Are Coming, but the Controversy Is Already Here

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Artificial Wombs Are Coming, but the Controversy Is Already Here

Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, philosopher, journalist, and author of the bestselling novel The Transhumanist Wager. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard ruminating on the future beyond natural human ability. 

Of all the transhumanist technologies coming in the near future, one stands out that both fascinates and perplexes people. It’s called ectogenesis: raising a fetus outside the human body in an artificial womb.

It has the possibility to change one of the most fundamental acts that most humans experience: the way people go about having children. It also has the possibility to change the way we view the female body and the field of reproductive rights.

Naturally, it’s a social and political minefield.

The term ectogenesis was coined in 1924 by British scientist J.B.S. Haldane. He predicted by 2074 only 30 percent of births would be human births. Science has grown much quicker than he realized, and his take is probably much too conservative. Some futurists like myself (I’m also married to an ObGyn) think ectogenesis will be here in 20 years, and widely used in 30 years around the world.

It’s not an entirely speculative concept; scientists are actively working on developing the technology, primarily for medical reasons. In an article for Reproductive Health and Social Justice, a daily nonprofit publication providing news and analysis on sexual and reproductive health and justice issues, journalist Soraya Chemaly discussed two leading scientists in the ectogenesis field and their projects:

There are two commonly cited endeavors in progress. Focusing on finding ways to save premature babies, Japanese professor Dr. Yoshinori Kuwabara of Juntendo University, has successfully gestated goat embryos in a machine that holds amniotic fluid in tanks.

On the other end of the process focusing on helping women unable to conceive and gestate babies, is Dr. Helen Hung-Ching Liu, Director of the Reproductive Endocrine Laboratory at the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at Cornell University. Quietly, in 2003, she and her team succeeded in  growing a mouse embryo, almost to full term, by adding engineered endometrium tissue to a bio-engineered, extra-uterine “scaffold.”

More recently, she grew a human embryo, for ten days in an artificial womb. Her work is limited by legislation that imposes a 14-day limit on research projects of this nature. As complicated as it is, her goal is a functioning external womb.

The ectogenesis technology itself is highly complicated, though somewhat simple looking. Basically, it appears as an amniotic fluid-filled aquarium with a bunch of feeding tubes and monitoring cables attached to a live, developing organism. Those tubes bring the nutrients, oxygen, etc needed to grow an organism and help it survive; the cables monitor everything going on inside the tank. There’s certainly a Matrix feel to it all.

While much of the technology for starting to experiment with artificially growing a human fetus already exists, bona fide human trials are likely at least a decade off, largely due to the murky legal and ethical implications of the controversial concept.

No doubt, propagating the species without the need for the human body sounds insanely far-fetched. And even if it’s achievable, there’s the question of whether people would be comfortable using it. I would argue yes, and the reasons are simple: Besides being painful, laborious, and time consuming, giving birth is still medically dangerous to mothers.

Furthermore, the advent of ectogenesis would mean females would no longer have to solely bear the responsibility of childbirth, or ponder the stressful questions often faced while carrying a child in one’s body for nine months: Is there lead in the house water I drink, potentially affecting my child’s neurological development? Will the flu virus I caught at work damage my baby’s forming body? Did the half glass of wine I drank the other night lower my kid’s potential IQ?

But perhaps an even more important reason has to do with the health of the babies themselves. Natural birth is filled with perils, and ectogenesis could potentially offer a safe alternative. The theory is that every heartbeat, kick, and moment of a fetus’s life could be carefully monitored, from zygote to the moment the baby takes its first breath of air. Every nutrient the fetus gets would be measured, every movement it makes would be filmed, every heartbeat would be analyzed for proper timing.

As with all new technology, traditional biological and social customs could give way to newer practices promising safety, efficiency, and practicality. However, if ectogenesis seems like a slam dunk, it’s not. It’s rife with both philosophical and political concerns.

The most frequent philosophical issue brought up about ectogenesis is how it might change the way society views women. Will the feminine mystique be lost by such an artificial process replacing what’s been long a mainstay of the female domain? My short answer is no; rather, ectogenesis could further unchain women from the home, spare them and extend the age at which women can have children.

Still, some feminists view ectogenesis with skepticism, saying it will hand over women’s sacred birthing ability to science. In an essay in the book Feminist Perspectives in Medical Ethics, Julien S. Murphy, chair of the philosophy department and professor of philosophy at University of Southern Maine, wrote that ectogenesis has sparked “disagreement among feminists.”

The politics are just as complicated; after all, reproductive rights and procreation are some of the most divisive and loaded topics in Washington right now. It’s likely people with conservative social views or certain religious concerns would rally hard against the technology, which threatens to disrupt the symbiotic bond that the sexes have in traditional society.

Some have also suggested an artificial womb leaves a growing fetus without the immediate intimacy its mother’s body provides. Professor and journalist John Nassivera writes in America, The National Catholic Review, “I can tell you that this deprivation is a very serious thing.”

Meanwhile, the pro-ectogenesis argument is that artificial wombs could make life easier and safer for mothers and fetuses, not to mention allow women who have damaged or medically dysfunctional uteruses to bear children. Similarly, some bioethicists have suggested ectogenesis could also free up homosexual couples and single men from having to use surrogate mothers to bear their children.

Regardless what happens in the future, ectogenesis is destined to become one of hottest topics of the transhumanist future, providing a gateway for how our tech-imbued species views itself, and the way our children will enter the sphere of life.

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Canadian News

Joint statement from the Greater Toronto Area & Hamilton Mayors and Chairs

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, and Toronto Mayor John Tory
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, and Toronto Mayor John Tory take part in a candlelit vigil to honour the victims of a deadly shooting in Toronto on Wednesday July 25, 2018. Ten-year-old Julianna Kozis of Markham, Ont., and 18-year-old Reese Fallon of Toronto were killed in Sunday's shooting attack, and 13 other people were injured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

We are united in fighting COVID-19 – protecting our residents and saving lives.

While the measures we have taken to stop the spread of the virus have made a difference, this virus has still taken far too many lives in our communities and continues to threaten the lives of our residents.

At the same time, there is no denying the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the economy. Jobs have been lost, many businesses have closed or are at risk of closure, and many families are worried about their financial future.

We’ve been hit hard but that’s why it is so important that we keep moving forward and come back as strong as possible.

Today, the GTHA Mayors and Chairs met to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on the region and how our municipalities can work together on the economic restart and recovery.

We know the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area alone is projected to lose 355,000 jobs and 28% of GDP along with $894 million in lost wages and $3.7 billion in revenue losses for businesses. This will be felt right across the GTHA but it also threatens the provincial and national economies.

A strong recovery right here in the GTHA is crucial to healing the economic damage done by COVID-19 and helping the families and businesses all governments have been working to protect throughout this emergency.

Ontario’s economy and Canada’s economy need the GTHA to come back stronger than ever when the restart begins.

We are determined to deliver this recovery and we agreed today that the GTHA municipalities will be working together to successfully and smoothly reopen our vital regional economy when the time comes.

We also discussed how we can in a consistent way achieve significant, necessary financial support from the other governments to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and protect our ability to contribute to the recovery. A strong recovery needs strong cities and regional governments.

We have agreed we will work together to share information about our respective financial positions and explore together measures we can advocate to the other governments which will help to ensure the financial stability of local and regional governments in the GTHA.

Our child care and recreation programs help parents get back to work.

Our emergency services keep people safe.

Our transit systems get people to work and home safely.

Our major infrastructure projects – often built in conjunction with the other governments – will help kick-start the recovery and create countless jobs.

Our economic development activities attract jobs and investment.

We built a strong and vibrant GTHA and we know that we will need to come back even stronger and as quickly as we can in order to keep Canada’s economy going.

With the cooperation and support of the provincial and federal governments, we are ready to rise to this challenge.”

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Canadian News

Four People Charged in Mississauga Pedestrian Fail to Remain Fatality

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Investigators from the Major Collision Bureau have charged four people in Mississauga’s most recent fatal fail to remain collision.

On Thursday, February 15, 2018, at approximately 8:40 p.m., the victim, a 61 year-old female from Mississauga, was struck by a south bound vehicle as she was crossing Mavis Road in the area of Knotty Pine Grove in the City of Mississauga. The vehicle did not remain and the victim, having suffered major injuries, was pronounced dead at the scene.

On Saturday, February 17, 2018 shortly before 7:00 p.m., Satchithanantha VAITHILINGAM, a 60 year-old male from Brampton, and the driver believed to be responsible in this incident, surrendered to police at 22 Division. Satchithanantha VAITHILINGAM has since been charged with Fail to Remain Cause Death.

Hivissa SATCHITHANANTHAN, a 25 year old female from Brampton, Shajeetha SATCHITHANANTHAN a 28 year-old female from Brampton and Gowtham SATKUNARAJAH a 28 year-old male from Brampton have each been charged with Accessory After the Fact in relation to this incident.

Satchithanantha VAITHILINGAM will answer to his charge on March 12, 2018. Hivissa SATCHITHANANTHAN, Shajeetha SATCHITHANANTHAN andGowtham SATKUNARAJAH will answer to their charges on Monday March 26, 2018 at the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton

Anyone who may have witnessed the collision, have dashboard video footage of the incident or who may have any information regarding this incident is asked to contact investigators with the Major Collision Bureau at (905) 453-2121, ext. 3710. Information may also be left anonymously by calling Peel Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), or by visiting www.peelcrimestoppers.ca or by sending a text message to CRIMES (274637) with the word ‘PEEL’ and then your tip.

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Canadian News

Justin Trudeau in India: Hug missing! Mounting pressure?

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The much publicized and anticipated visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to India was marred with questions. The questions were centered on the kind of welcome he would be given in the Sikh dominated state of Punjab. Also the famous hug by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was being anticipated. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally made his much-touted visit to India. He landed on the Indira Gandhi Airport, New Delhi only to be received by Gajendra Singh Shekhawat not even a Cabinet Minister in Narendra Modi’s government.

He is presently the second rank Minister of State for Agriculture.  That comes in complete contrast to the warmth that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his NDA government has generally displayed towards the visiting dignitaries.  Only a couple of weeks ago, when the heads of the 10 ASEAN states arrived in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t receive Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the airport, as he has previously done with many leaders including Barack Obama, Xi Jinping, Shinzo Abe, and Benjamin Netanyahu.

The fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t join him is all surprising even when Prime Minister Trudeau visited Gujarat. This is unusual because the Indian Prime Minister has set a trend that he always accompanies head of the state when they visit his home state.

Even Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath did not show up, let alone accompany Prime Minister Trudeau to the Taj. However, during Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 15 January visit to the Taj Mahal at Agra, Yogi Adityanath had received Netanyahu and his wife and shown them around as well as hosted a lunch for them. For first three days, none from the executive or the elected representative held any meeting with the delegation.

Media in India is trying to spread a message that the cold treatment given by Prime Minister could be because two of the four Sikh members of Trudeau’s cabinet – Harjit Sajjan and Amarjeet Sohi – support the Khalistan movement. However, had that been the case his visit to Punjab would have got a similar response.  However, the Punjab Government led by Captain Amarinder Singh rolled out a red carpet during his stay at Amritsar and even the two leaders held some fruitful discussions.

Thus putting an end to those criticisms that that Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit was devoid of any warmth.  Chief Minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh, for instance who met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau setting aside his earlier prejudice that he exhibited during the visit of Defence Minister Harjeet Singh Sajjan.

In recent months, Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) in Canada, the United States and Australia have banned Indian officials from visiting gurudwaras and the moment started with Gurudwaras here in Toronto. Could that be the reason for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to not accord one of the warmest welcomes that he is known to provide?  Or the use by Canada’s parliament of the term genocide to describe mass killings of Sikhs in India in 1984 has left the Indian Prime Minister disturbed?  However, more than Prime Minister Modi, this could have left the Congress party in troubled waters, but that was also not the case as Amarinder Singh hails from the same party.

The lukewarm welcome to Prime Minister Trudeau can have its political ramifications too. Will it hamper the significant 2015 deal, in which Canada agreed to supply 3,000 metric tons of Uranium to power India’s atomic reactors?

Somewhere Prime Minister Modi has not taken the issue of non allowing entry of Indian officials to Gurudwaras and the statement on Genocide too lightly. Prime Minister Modi however has failed to understand that Canada cannot curtail the right of freedom of speech and expression of its citizen.

Two nations perhaps failed to resolve the matter before Prime Minister boarded the flight from Canada and not welcoming Prime Minister Trudeau could be a tactical decision to put pressure on him. With Prime Minister Modi preferring to meet him at the far end of the tour has conveyed a lot about the myopic approach of Prime Minister Modi.

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