How can a uterus transplant be justified?

There’s been angst in Britain recently about the problem of regulating IVF – how do you balance patients’ frequent desperation to have a child, the health risks they may be running for themselves and, even more morally problematic, for the possible child-to-be, and the frequently exceedingly high costs to society.

Now it is going further – doctors in the US are contemplating a womb transplant.

Now kidney transplants, liver transplants, even, perhaps, heart transplants; they are all morally unproblematic so far as I’m concerned. Without them, the patients are highly likely to die. They choose for understandable reasons to take the significant medical risks (the operation, the continuing immune-suppression drugs etc) in the hope of many years of relatively healthy life.

But what of a woman who is entirely healthy but happens not to have a functional uterus for one reason or another? Should she be allowed to subject herself to two major operations (the implanting of the donor organ, and its later planned removal), the potential, largely unknown risks to any foetus being developed in that womb, and the huge cost – all so she can bear a child herself, when she has many other opportunities – adoption, even surrogacy?

I think not. And perhaps that final argument is the strongest. How many lives of women could that cash save?

On Radio Four’s PM tonight, there was an item about the first anniversary of the inauguration of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia, Africa’s first female head of state. It focused on her campaign against rape, and its notable lack of success.

At the account’s centre was the story of an 11-year-old who died many months after a rape in which she had probably suffered an abdominal fistula due to its violence. (An outcome of rape on which I had written elsewhere.)

How much cash would have paid for treatment to save her life: £100 would probably have done it. You’d get a lot of such treatments for the cost of one uterus transplant…

(A report on the problem of rape in Liberia. (Some may find this account traumatic.)

7 Comments

  • January 17, 2007 - 10:03 am | Permalink

    While I have some sympathy for this argument – why rail particularly against womb transplants? At least there there is potential for a new life. If you want to rail against unnecessary medical treatments, surely plastic surgery is way ahead on the list.

    I’ve been lucky enough to be able to have children easily, but I can certainly understand the desire to be genetically related to your own children.

    I think that IVF and reporductive medicine gets too much of a bad rap in the “the west spends too much on medicine when the third world suffers for a tiny bit of help” arguments.

  • January 17, 2007 - 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Because there is no actual health benefit to anyone in it – unlike say heart transplants etc – which does complicate the third world argument.

    These betray the basic principle of medicine of “first do no harm”.

  • January 17, 2007 - 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I can’t think of anything I’d like to do less simply to exp erience pregnancy. Two major surgeries in a very delicate part of the body, and as you say, goodness knows what the risks are to mother and child… Surrogacy allows wo men to have children with their own DNA. As for any possible emotional problems caused by not experiencing pregnancy, if someone can afford the operation they can afford to pay for someone else’s medical treatment. Saving a life would be a consolation.

  • January 17, 2007 - 8:10 pm | Permalink

    Does the womb, necessarily, have to be transplanted into another woman?

  • January 18, 2007 - 4:50 am | Permalink

    I can’t imagine how I could get to the state of mind where I’d prioritize some health concerns over others. It’s a perversity of our system that we fall into this trap so easily: kidneys are grave and important but uterii are what? Frivolous?

    For me, being pro-choice means supporting all womens’ reproductive freedom, even the ones who make choices I would not make myself and even the ones I do not understand, whether it means taking extraordinary measures not to have children or whether it means taking extraordinary measure to have children. It’s not my (or anyone’s) place to get into womens’ psyches.

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  • Aimee
    November 14, 2010 - 6:07 am | Permalink

    I think those of you that agree with all this talk of having a uterus Transplant isnt worth it and dosent stick to the health standers, need to stop and look at the people that are getting or trying to get a uterus transplant done. To you it might seem like a small thing. But to those that are trying it is a big deal. There are many people that have killed themselves because they couldnt have children and these female that have a light shined at them with this are looking at that light as hope. Yeah, they can adopt, they can try other ways of having a child, but to bear your own children is more bonding. You dont get the connection with your child when you adopt or have someone carry it for you. During your term you build a very strong bond with your child. As a woman (for most females) a sence of womanhood. Take that away and it hurts, not phisicaly but mentaly.
    Yeah, this type of money could be put to good use for the people that need other things to live, but at the sametime it is their choice, it is their right, and it is their money (at this point in time).

    As for morals… It is morally correct. We are taught in church that is is our God given job to reproduce. So take that from a religius person and you take their morals from them. Give them that opertunity to meet Gods word and they are fofilling their moral job.

    So dont go off trying to tell people it isnt moral, its wrong, its a waist of money, or tell them how they should feel and or do with their money.
    You want to talk about morals… God tells us not to judge others, and when you judge how another person spends their money you are doing just that, juding them. That is not moral.

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