The Art of Conception

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The New Front in Baby-Making: Uterine Transplants

Are uterine transplants a revolutionary chance at motherhood?

Two groundbreaking mother-to-daughter uterine transplants may open doors for women who can’t bear children. What does this mean for the future of motherhood? News outlets worldwide recently reported a revolutionary advance in transplant medicine, but will it spark controversy?

A Swedish medical team has performed two groundbreaking uterine transplants. The simultaneous procedures transferred wombs from two mothers in their 50s to their respective daughters. Unlike transplants of other organs, uterine transplants are uniquely temporary. After the recipient has successfully conceived, carried and delivered a child, the transplanted uterus will be removed. That way, patients will not have to take immunosuppressive drugs for the rest of their lives. 

While news of this fascinating practice is reverberating around the globe, it is not the first of its kind. In 2000, a Saudi Arabian group transplanted a womb from a live donor into a recipient. While pioneering, the transplant ultimately did not take, with the uterus developing blood-clotting issues three months later before being removed. Ten years ago The New York Times reported that the Saudi team believed that uterine transplants would be particularly life changing in Muslim societies, “where religious authorities do not allow the use of surrogate mothers.” 

Last week, NPR’s Health blog “Shots” notes that doctors in Indiana are planning similar uterine transplants, but will turn to cadaver donors — a key difference between the Swedish and Saudi operations. Experts say that the uterus, an organ that naturally withstands tremendous changes over the course of pregnancy, would be hearty enough to endure a transplant—and afterward, a pregnancy with a transplanted uterus. 

Dr. Giuseppe Del Priore, part of the Indiana team, says that “tens of thousands” of American women are candidates for womb transplants – many were born without a uterus, or have had hysterectomies for a number of health problems.

For these women, the transplants would mean a renewed chance at motherhood. What will it mean for child bearing? For the role of surrogacy? And added to everything are musings about how non-vital transplant procedures will affect our nation’s health care system.

Some take issue with the medical intervention of this procedure and its impact on parenthood. Huffington Post columnist, Lisa Belkin, titled her comments on the subject “Giving Birth With A Borrowed Womb Is Not What Makes You A Mother.” Belkin claims the procedure is “troubling,” citing lack of total information about the physical and psychological risks. Belkin ends by saying: “When we are drawing ethical lines, do we want to cross the one that declares ‘it is worth measurable risk to life to accept the skewed definition of a 'real' mother?’ I hope not.” 

What do you think uterine transplants mean for women worldwide? For health care? For the definition of motherhood? Is this procedure carrying medical intervention too far?

Resources: 

Anonymous. "Swedish Doctors Claim Pioneering Uterus Transplant." USA Today. The Associated Press, 19 Sept. 2012. http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/story/2012/09/18/swedish-doctors-claim-pioneering-uterus-transplant/57799492/1

Belkin, Lisa. "Giving Birth With A Borrowed Womb Is Not What Makes You A Mother." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 21 Sept. 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-belkin/womb-transplant-unethical_b_1904205.html?utm_source=Alert-blogger 

Grady, Denise. "Medical First: A Transplant Of a Uterus." The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 Mar. 2002. http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/07/world/medical-first-a-transplant-of-a-uterus.html 

Knox, Richard. "Swedes Perform Pioneering Uterine Transplants; Americans Not Far Behind." NPR. Npr.org, 21 Sept. 2012. http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/09/21/161503782/swedes-perform-pioneering-uterine-transplants-americans-not-far-behind 

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