Artificial Wombs, Animal Birth Control, and 600 Million Dogs
Updated: Nov 12, 2019
Today on the radio, there was a story about the invention of an artificial womb that will hopefully allow premature babies to survive at a much higher rate than they do now.
Instead of putting a premature baby into an incubator, they would basically put the baby into a plastic bag filled with liquid--not air--and pump in the nutrients, mimicking the womb. They said that would be better than incubators because at this stage of the baby’s development, air actually damages the lungs.
Makes sense. Why didn’t anyone think of this earlier? Then they started talking about the ethical issues, but they’ll figure those out. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and when it comes to saving babies’ lives, loving parents don’t hesitate. If science can save their baby, of course they will do it, as they should. No one wants to see their baby die. So interfering with “natural” processes is perfectly fine if it saves lives.
Then I Googled it and found out that this hasn’t actually happened yet. The article (below) says maybe in 10 years. The guy on the video in the same article said maybe 5 years. So no one knows yet. But I was already convinced that it existed.
I hope that they don’t do a lot of horrific animal experiments to make this happen, although I expect they will. Not enough people care about stopping animal experiments yet.
I also wonder why, with 7.7 billion people on the planet, and with many of them having babies they really, really do not want to have, there are so few scientists working to improve human birth control. The main concern seems to be religious. OK. We’re not all the same religion, though. Some of us would be very happy to have birth control that’s 100% effective and temporary. Some would like to have birth control that’s 100% effective and permanent.
Either way, what we currently have are a bunch of methods that were revolutionary when they first happened decades ago, but now they’re just so-so, not great, and haven’t advanced very much.
Drug companies would be the major places where this advancement would happen. But not very many people are working on this because it’s too controversial. Drug companies don’t like getting sued. They make more money working on other things. Human birth control methods are kind of stuck in limbo until we really get serious about improving them.
But what about birth control for animals? In principle, animal protection advocates don’t like messing around with animal reproduction, but we understand that sometimes it’s necessary in order to save animals’ lives. But the vast majority of other people have no objection to interfering in the natural birth processes of animals.
Actually it’s pretty shocking, the many terrible ways we interfere with the reproduction of animals, and not for their benefit. We control their breeding; captive animals don’t get to choose their mates. We breed specific kinds of animals to use in experiments. We breed dogs to their closest relatives so that their babies will look a certain way, and then take their babies so that we can have “pets.” Then we kill the extra ones or let them roam the streets--starving, sick, and injured.
Those in animal industries have few qualms about castrating male animals, even without painkiller. Many people don’t know that a cow must have a calf in order to produce milk. They don’t know that a mother cow can cry for days when her calf is taken away and killed. Through all these years of animals being used for meat, their emotions are as strong as ever. These emotions have not been bred away somehow, as the animal industries would have people believe.
For mammals for sure, and for many other animals, the emotions of a mother for her baby are strong and instinctive, and taking babies from their mothers is a terrible thing to do. This is all so that people can steal the milk that was intended for the calf. Animal industries also often use artificial insemination and “rape racks” to breed animals for food. Even cloning animals—which used to be science fiction--has become reality. A terrible reality that causes great suffering, but reality.
Isn’t it about time we started using our increasing knowledge of animal reproduction and genetics to HELP animals instead of to abuse them in more and more painful ways? One positive thing to do would be to improve our methods of animal birth control, because right now, the main methods of controlling animals we consider to be overpopulated are 1) killing and 2) spay/neuter surgery, and these aren’t really working that well.
Killing has been used for a long time. That benefits people who enjoy killing, or who make money from killing, but it’s obviously not helpful to the animal, and it hasn’t solved the problem.
When humans are suffering from malnutrition or homelessness or are sick, that’s a problem, especially when the numbers become overwhelming. But we consider it terrible and unethical to kill them, as we should. They are innocent, they have the right to be here, and killing them is murder. So even though you might argue that their lives are miserable and they might be better off dead, they would disagree with you, so we don’t consider murdering people a good solution to any problem. At least, those of us who are compassionate and ethical don’t.
The point is, killing is not a good solution to overpopulation, whether for people or animals. So while some people may say killing an animal is the lesser of two evils—putting an animal “out of misery” vs. living a sad life, we don’t want to have to choose between those two evils. We need another alternative, and people have attempted to use spay/neuter surgery as an alternative.
In India, where the overpopulation of stray dogs is a huge problem, they call their attempt to spay and neuter stray dogs Animal Birth Control, or the ABC program. Clever and forward-thinking name, though it refers to old-fashioned surgical spay/neuter, which does work, but it’s not a great solution, mainly because it’s too expensive and difficult to do on a mass scale—though people try, and in that case it’s called high-volume spay/neuter. But at least the term “animal birth control” promotes the CONCEPT that birth control, ideally nonsurgical, can be applied to animals, and people need to get that idea into their heads before they will seriously start working on it.
Our world is increasingly suffering from overpopulation of some species and the extinction of others—a problem largely created by humans. This is resulting in a lot of suffering, and we need to think about it seriously and figure out what we can do differently than what we’re doing now.
But who will step forward to do this for animals? Who will be the one to succeed? No one knows for sure, but of the people who are trying to accomplish this, if I’m voting for “most likely to succeed,” I’d vote for the one who has already helped more animals than pretty much anyone else: Alex Pacheco, currently president of 600 Million Stray Dogs Need You. He was also the cofounder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, along with Ingrid Newkirk, in 1980, and he served as PETA’s chairman for 20 years.
During that time, PETA became world-famous for its battles to help animals. Alex Pacheco and Ingrid Newkirk had motivation and courage; the willingness to be different, weird, hated, unpopular, undignified, mocked; the ability to disregard death threats and literally get shot at; the willingness to risk years in prison; the willingness to get arrested again and again, risk getting sued for every dime they had—oh, and of course they also stopped eating and wearing animal products.
Animal rights was a whole new level of caring about animals, far beyond animal welfare, and they were pioneers. They inspired the country and the world to treat animals better.
I’m not saying that the other people working in this currently small field of animal birth control, also known as nonsurgical sterilization, didn’t work hard--going to college, getting degrees, learning scientific skills. Some of them care a lot about dogs and cats in particular, so that’s where this research is directed. But it’s not quite the same as risking EVERYTHING for animals, is it? And as far as I can tell, few of the others in this field are even willing to stop eating and wearing animal products.
Very few have stood up and spoken up for animal rights. Maybe they don’t think that’s important, but as a vegan and animal rights advocate, I think it is. They may get to a solution for animal birth control, but at the rate they’re doing it--making a nice, comfortable, safe living the whole time--it’s going to take a long, long time.
Sometimes it takes an inspirational leader to make scientific change happen quickly. For example, President John F. Kennedy, not a scientist himself, motivated scientists to develop the space program needed to put “a man on the moon.” Amazingly, they succeeded, although tragically, he didn’t live to see it, since he was assassinated, something that happens far too often to inspirational leaders.
Whether sending a man to the moon is a wise use of tax dollars, when people and animals are suffering here on earth, is a question for another time.
So again, I vote for the person in this field who has worked the hardest and already done the most for animals. Pacheco doesn’t need to be a scientist; he just needs financial and moral support so that he can pay scientists to work full-time on developing a birth-control product with these qualities: safe, inexpensive, oral, one-time, permanent.
No, it will not be easy, but Pacheco has succeeded against tremendous odds before. I hope enough people will be inspired by his example that they will make this happen sooner rather than later.
If scientists can invent artificial wombs for humans, not to mention all the other inventions that were at one time inconceivable--they should be able to invent permanent, nonsurgical birth control for animals.