British 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.
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