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FIRST there were test-tube babies...and now scientists are on the verge of producing babies inside an artificial womb.

They claim that a glass tank could be made which would feed and protect an unborn child in the same way as a natural mother.

The process - known medically as ectogenesis - has already been used to give birth to a goat in Japan.

If developed for humans it would involve an egg being taken from a woman and fertilised artificially with a man's sperm.

The egg would then be placed in a glass tank with a lining similar to that of a human womb.

Childless couples would face a three-day wait to find out whether the baby was growing.

If successful, nine months later experts would "give birth" to the child by removing it from the tank and handing it over to the parents.

An increasing number of men and women are becoming infertile.

Robert Forman, medical director of the London Centre of Reproductive Medicine, said: "There are several reasons for this. One of them is that sexually transmitted diseases have become more common over the last few years.

"Also women are putting off child bearing until a later stage of their lives when they have got on with their careers and have sufficient resources to look after a baby.

"A woman's fertility is dependent on her age. There is also evidence that over the last few years men's sperm count is decreasing in number." Kim Cotton, Britain's first surrogate mother and head of the group Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy, said the artificial womb technique would put an end to the misery of millions of couples unable to have children.

"Women who cannot have children are in continual pain," she said.

"They will pass Mothercare and see new-born babies, they will see other pregnant women. It is staring them in the face every time of the day.

"They only have to put on the TV to see all the baby adverts, Pampers and baby food - it is almost unbearable."

But Mr Yehudi Gordon, a consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician, said the process could lead to a baby being psycho- logically damaged.

"With the use of an artificial womb the baby may have great difficulty in bonding with the mother," he said.

"This would then extend and spread to the baby's ability to bond with anybody else."

Mr Paul Rainsbury, medical director of the Fertility Unit at the Roding Hospital in Essex, also criticised the idea.

"There would be a risk of baby farming, genetic engineering and the creation of a master race," he said. "It is mind-boggling and terrifying."

The artificial birth is featured next Wednesday on Carol Vorderman's new BBC1 show Mysteries.

Among the other predictions featured on the programme is a new drug which can control the human gene which makes people violent.
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hamer, Rupert
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 23, 1998
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