"It is clear that the legal and ethical issues emerging from the technology must be talked about now, in advance of the artificial womb becoming a reality," she added.
Because they are not yet used in real-world clinics, there is little information available on the ethics of an artificial womb from a Catholic perspective. Guiding principles for Catholic morality regarding reproductive problems include not separating the sexual act from the reproductive act, and respect for the human dignity of both the parents and the child. For example, under these principles, in vitro fertilization and surrogate pregnancies are morally impermissible.
In 2014, Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that in the case of a woman who had successfully given birth after a womb transplant, the procedure was licit by Catholic principles and "would be analogous to a situation where a kidney fails to function," and a donor provides a healthy organ to someone in need.
The womb was donated by a woman who was past her reproductive years, and the pregnancy resulted from the recipient's own ovaries. Had the womb been donated with a contraceptive mentality on the part of the donor (such as donating a functioning womb during childbearing years in order to avoid conception), or had the pregnancy resulted from the use of the donor's ovaries instead of from the birth mother's ovaries, the procedure would be considered problematic from a Catholic perspective, the priest noted.
But in the case at hand, "by donating the uterus she (the donor) is not compromising her reproductive function nor is she compromising any significant hormonal function," he said.
According to a 2010 article by David T. Reiber on artificial wombs, published in The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, "the most obvious benefit of (artificial wombs) would be the ability to save the lives of babies born at extremely early gestational ages, and as I have stated, the technology would be morally permissible when used for this purpose."
However, he added, the technology also raises important ethical questions, including "if a miscarriage, or spontaneous abortion, were to occur because of profound fetal anomaly, would it be appropriate to use AWT to attempt to rescue the fetus, or should the child be allowed to die as perhaps God intended? If AWT actually functions as it is imagined, would it be ethical to use it to bring to term a severely disabled child who would not have survived without it?"
Other considerations would include whether it would be moral to transfer a premature baby to an artificial womb for corrective, but not life-saving, surgery, or to transfer multiples from the natural womb in order to give them a better womb environment and to prevent complications.
Potential abuses of artificial womb technology, Reiber stated, would include women who want to deliver early for convenience or comforts' sake, or if employers would force women to deliver early and use artificial wombs in order to allow them to come back to work earlier than if they had given birth naturally.
Mary Farrow worked as a staff writer for Catholic News Agency until 2020. She has a degree in journalism and English education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.