Each year, about 10% of the babies born in the United States are delivered prematurely at younger than 37 weeks gestation. Medical science continually pushes the limits of viability, and today, premature babies born as young as 22 to 23 weeks have as much as a 50 percent chance of survival. But while these babies have a better chance than ever at surviving, they remain at high risk (90 percent) for long-term disability, including cerebral palsy and chronic lung disease. This reality may change in coming years, however, as researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) have announced the invention of a “womb-like device” that could be a game-changer in the care of premature infants.
Unlike the “dry” environment of incubators – the best intervention that medical science currently has to offer these little ones – the CHOP researchers’ “Biobag” is filled with lab-created amniotic fluid. Mimicking the environment of the womb, the bags have the potential to one day provide preemies with the precious additional weeks needed for continued development, especially of their tiny lungs, which simply aren’t prepared to breathe air just yet. So far, the researchers have successfully kept premature infant lambs (which are developmentally similar to human infants in the womb) alive in the bags for up to 28 days. What’s more, the lambs continued to develop and grow both physically and neurologically while inside the Biobags.
Based on the success of the bags with the lambs, the CHOP researchers are now in talks with the FDA about the possibility for future human trials. Far from promising the replacement of the human womb, the researchers stress that the bags are meant to act as a “bridge” from womb to world for preemies during the critical developmental stage from the 23rd to the 28th week of life, after which point the risks for death and lung disease decrease.
A “win” for the culture of life
These Biobags represent a significant step in affirming and honoring the personhood of the smallest, most fragile among us; a true boon in furthering the culture of life, and curbing the culture of death.
Pro-life groups like Save the Storks have found that viewing ultrasounds helps mothers choose life for their unborn babies – imagine the impact that viewing videos and images of a 23-week-old preemie inside of a Biobag as she wiggles, kicks, sleeps, and sucks her thumb could have on our culture. What’s more, Biobags – if access to them is justly distributed – could also be a win for another important aspect of the culture of life: socioeconomic equality. Currently, there are significant disparities associated with prematurity, with African American mothers and mothers of low socioeconomic status facing much higher rates of delivering prematurely, with their babies at risk for all of the associated morbidities that come along with prematurity. These bags could help alleviate such disparities, and in doing so, contribute to a consistent ethic of life.
This article continues at [Aleteia] “Biobags” and the culture of life