Lab-grown Babies in the Year 2030
In 1930 Frederick Edwin Smith, the First Earl of Birkenhead, wrote a book, The World in 2030 A.D., containing predictions about war (it’ll be less vicious when the world is a “single economic unit”), the state of agriculture (it will gradually go extinct), and the effects of science (Einsteinian physics will “provide the instinctive background to all men’s minds.”)
But the chapter that really stuck out for me was the one about women in the year 2030, which included predictions about ectogenesis; creating life outside of the body, presumably in a laboratory setting. The author claims that this will be the first step to men and women being paid equal wages for the same work, and usher in a brave new world that enables women to vastly “expand their accomplishments in every sphere of life.”
In 2030, the prospect of woman’s liberation from the dangers of childbirth will almost certainly become a matter of general realisation. This evolution, the most serious biological departure since the natural separation of living organisms into two sexes, will vitally transform the whole status of women in society. Unless their present importance and limitations be clearly apprehended, their future development cannot be apprehended.
Science as I hinted in a previous chapter, already foreshadows the possibility of producing living offspring in the laboratory from the germs of various animal species. Hitherto no living animal has been brought to birth ab initio; but the foetus of various species has been removed from the maternal organism and further developed by skilful manipulation in biological laboratories. It is certain that scientists will one day succeed in producing a living human infant by such means. This process, known as ectogenesis, will be violently and furiously opposed by the spiritual descendants of all those who now attack contraception….The first practitioners of ectogenesis will possibly obtain the crown of martyrdom.
Today, some religious groups oppose in vitro fertilization on the grounds that the act of procreation is disconnected from the love of the parents, who have been joined together in sacred matrimony. Frederick Edwin Smith foresaw such concerns.
Although its economic effect on woman is the most important result which ectogenesis will bring, I must consider also its effects on marriage and family life, as we know them. First, ectogenesis will entirely divorce physical love from the reproduction of the species. The common practice of contraception has already, in some measure, accustomed certain classes of the population to this idea; its complete realisation will occupy many generations and create a violent social readjustment.
This idea of separating romantic love from the procreation equation showed up in popular media of the early 1930s. A book by Ira S. Wilde in 1933 predicted that by 2033 we would see governments deciding who might be allowed to marry. The 1930 movie Just Imagine even farcically shows people getting their baby from a vending machine. And, of course, the classic dystopian novel Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley portrayed a future where children are raised in labs and conditioning centers, and the word “mother” has become an obscenity.
This article originally appeared at Smithsonian magazine.