September 28, 2022

COUNTDOWN TO FIRST WOMB TRANSPLANT

 Despite unease amongst doctors and ethicists, a New York hospital is preparing to offer the first uterus transplant in the US. Dr Giuseppe Del Priore and Dr Jeanetta Stega, of the New York Downtown Hospital, have secured ethics committee approval and shown that it is possible to obtain wombs from deceased donors. They are confident that anti-rejection drugs will not harm the foetus. They are ready to roll.

However, other doctors said that the procedure is "not really ready for prime time". Doctors in Saudi Arabia attempted it in 2000 on a 20-year-old woman, but the womb survived for only 99 days. The technique is still unproven in animals, for instance. A similar operation with a Rhesus monkey failed recently. Bioethicist Arthur Caplan asked whether it is right to remove a womb without securing the consent of the donor. "It’s got symbolic importance that’s far different from a pancreas or a liver," he said. The operation would probably cost about US$500,000.

What sets a uterus transplant apart from other transplant operations is that it is driven not by concern for the patient’s survival, but by her passionate desire for a child from her own body. It is quality of life surgery, not life-saving surgery. Furthermore, the child would probably not be conceived naturally, but with IVF. Once the woman has had her child, or if no child comes after two years, another operation would be needed to remove the uterus to minimise health risks from immunosuppressant drugs.