Nascent concerns about womb transplants

Xavier Symons
April 23, 2016
Reproduced with Permission

Bioethicists have sounded a note of caution about womb transplants after a failed attempt at the procedure in a US fertility clinic.

In late March a participant of an American trial had to have her recently transplanted womb removed. Ironically, the reverse-transplantation was necessitated by a common uterine infection unrelated to the initial operation.

Still, Some have used the failed operation as an opportunity to question the merits of the research. Southampton Law School lecturer Natasha Hammond-Browning doubts that the procedure has a net benefit for the women involved:

"…I do not deny that for women without wombs who desire a uterus transplant, and receive one as part of one of the clinical trials that are happening, may well argue that their quality of life has been improved through the ability to experience one or two pregnancies. However, I believe that we need to ask: at what cost?..."

Other academics have enumerated various potential negative consequences that the procedure could have, and some suggest that even the ostensible benefits of the transplant have been misconstrued. As early as 2011 a group of researchers from Australia's Macquarie University, discussed ethical problems surrounding the practice, noting, for example, that the limited nerve connections between the uterus and the recipient's body may in fact entail an absence of the typical positive feelings experienced by a woman during pregnancy. The authors of that study did, however, note a certain inconsistency that would result from deny womb transplants to infertile women:

"Where a woman does not have a functioning uterus, it is far from clear how we might legitimately encourage use of a surrogate (with all its attendant difficulties) but withhold the opportunity to employ an (in principle) established surgical technique - namely, organ transplantation - in order to allow her to achieve a pregnancy 'of her own'."

US Researchers remain positive about the uterine transplant trials, despite the setbacks already encountered. The surgeon who is leading trials at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Goran Klintmalm said he and his doctors had discussed their failed transplant with his team. "What they experienced is something that helps us to fine tune our protocol and approach, to hopefully avoid having the same situation," Dr. Klintmalm said.