Doctors Work Towards Womb Transplants–But Are They Ethical?

By Brett Israel | October 23, 2009 9:52 am

fetus-ultrasoundBritish doctors claim to have made an important step toward completing the first womb transplant. They say they have solved the problem of keeping the blood flowing to the transplanted uterus so that a pregnancy can be carried to term in the recipient. Womb transplants, if proven successful in humans, would offer an alternative to surrogacy or adoption for women whose own wombs have been damaged by diseases such as cervical cancer. Around 15,000 women of childbearing age are currently living with a womb that does not work or were born without one [Guardian]. The research was presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) conference in Atlanta.

However, the technique has only been demonstrated in rabbits, a far cry from successfully completing a womb transplant in humans. Using a “vascular patch technique” major blood vessels including the aorta were connected. Two of the five rabbits lived to 10 months and dissection after death showed the womb had stayed healthy [BBC News]. The research team has yet to show that the new wombs can actually support a pregnancy, which leaves some scientists skeptical that the procedure is actually an advancement.

Ethicists, medics and feminists have long argued as to whether infertility is a disease or a cultural phenomenon born of a society where women feel they have no value if they cannot reproduce. But illness or otherwise, it is not a fatal disease, and the suggestion that women could undergo major transplant surgery to fulfill their desire for a child may prompt unease [BBC News]. A woman who received the transplant would have to take drugs to suppress her immune system to prevent her body from rejecting the foreign organ. To avoid taking the drugs for life, the uterus would likely be removed again after the desired babies had been born.

Related Content:
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80beats: Is It Ethical to Pay Women to Donate Eggs for Medical Research?

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • jaykay20102

    I heard about this sort of stuff a couple of years ago, and it creeps me out. I’m a woman, and an organ donor. I’ve also told the important people in my life that my uterus is not to be used for procedures like this.

  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    This is just step one.

    Step two will be cloning up a uterus from scratch (stem cells perhaps), so we wont have to rely on the generosity (or lack thereof) of others in helping out their fellow humans.

    We’ve already made bladders, working heart valves, cheek bones, and sections of heart muscle (that started beating in the petri dish). So it’s only a matter of time.

  • Zachary

    There is no real ethical question here. Given enough time only those who support medical advancements will live. Don’t think penicillin is ethical, goodbye. Blood transfusions too, goodbye. Anything that increases reproduction or survival rates will eventually swamp out opposing views. Of course moral systems will spring up to defend such actions, but they are only a justification for already successful strategies, not causes of the success.

  • http://- Phil Doran

    Would the womb be connected to the recipient’s own functioning ovaries?
    Or would she require a donated egg or embryo?
    Or would the transplant include ovaries also.

    Would it be important to her that the child should be hers, genetically?

  • The Sine

    And then there’s this.

  • Frank

    I love the religious nuts who say this is unethical, yet give no thought to the billions of breeders stripping our planet bare.

    Take the failed wombs and recycle them into communion wafers. The church teaches that the communion wafer becomes the actual body of Christ when you swallow, so lets keep it real.

  • DocM

    “I love the religious nuts who say this is unethical”

    Many who have ethical questions are not religious, so get off that high-horse. Some thinknits unethical to do this when there are so many kids waiting for adoption. Some for other reasons. Ethics has many grounds besides religion. What’s really disturbing is that anyone trying to apply basic ethics gets hit with bigoted comments at all.

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