Controversial Uterine Transplants

By: Autria Godfrey Email
By: Autria Godfrey Email

January 16, 2006

Doctors at a Manhattan hospital have already begun screening women left unable to reproduce because cancer, injury, or other problems have left them without their uterus and without hope for biological children.

As a mother of two, Dr. Susan Modesitt of UVa's Medical Center of Gynecologic Oncology understands a woman's desire for biological children but says the risks far outweigh the benefits.

"Just because something is technically possible doesn't mean it's the right thing to do," Dr. Modesitt said.

Like other organs, the uterus would come from a deceased donor. If the replacement provides a safe environment for a fetus, a baby could then be delivered by Cesarean section, while doctors simultaneously remove the uterus. But Modesitt claimed the likelihood of a safe fetal environment while taking anti-rejection drugs is slim.

"They have a slightly higher risk of fetal malformations, they have a higher rate of pregnancy problems with the babies not growing as they should in the body so babies come out growing much smaller, and they have a higher rate of preterm delivery and all the morbidity that goes along with that," Dr. Modesitt continued.

The procedure is also already raising ethical concerns since the lines become blurred when it comes to ownership of eggs produced after the operation.

"Say she doesn't have ovaries and you transplant ovaries along with the uterus, that might raise some questions from the donors family. They would have a genetically related child that would then be going to another family," Dr. Modesitt said.

This same operation was conducted in 2002 in Saudi Arabia, but after only 99 days, the organ had to be removed after blood clots became severe. However, if executed and successful, the U.S. would be the first to accomplish it.


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