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Death and the Artificial Placenta

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Nelson, Anna 
Romanis, Elizabeth Chloe 
Adkins, Victoria 
Weis, Christina 


Artificial Amnion and Placenta Technology (AAPT) – sometimes referred to as ‘Artificial Womb Technology’ – could provide an extracorporeal alternative to bodily gestations, allowing a fetus delivered prematurely from the human uterus to continue development while maintaining fetal physiology. As AAPT moves nearer to being used in humans, important ethical and legal questions remain unanswered. In this paper we explore how the death of the entity sustained by AAPT would be characterized in law. This question matters, as legal ambiguity in this area has the potential to compound uncertainty, and the suffering of newly bereaved parent(s). We first identify the existing criteria used to delineate the legal characterization of death which occurs before birth or during the immediate neonatal period in England and Wales. We then demonstrate that attempting to apply these in the context of AAPT gives rise to a number of challenges which make it impossible to reach a definitive conclusion as to the nature of death in AAPT using the current legal framework. In doing so, we demonstrate that the current legal framework in England and Wales may be unable to adequately capture the situation of an entity being sustained by AAPT.



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Journal of Law and the Biosciences

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Oxford University Press

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Fondation Brocher, The Health Foundation