A new kind of surgery gives new hope to women who would like to conceive and carry a baby to term but who either were born without a womb or have lost their wombs to cancer.
A pioneering trial in Sweden has already implanted wombs in nine childless women, mostly in their 30s, allowing them to bear children that are genetically their own. Dr. Mats Brannstrom, chair of the obstetrics and gynaecology department at the University of Gothenburg, and who led this trial, explained that the women will not be able to get pregnant naturally because the transplant operations did not connect the uterus to the fallopian tubes. Instead, the eggs removed from these women to create embryos through in-vitro fertilization will be transferred to the new wombs. The new wombs themselves came from live donors.
"This is a new kind of surgery," Dr Mats Brannstrom told the Associated Press in an interview. "We have no textbook to look at."
This trial, however, is getting mixed reactions. Because childlessness is not life-threatening, some experts have raised ethical concerns about using live donors for such an experimental procedure. But John Harris, a bioethics expert at the University of Manchester, says that as long as the donors are fully aware of what they are getting into, there is nothing wrong with it. He likened this case to donating kidneys, it isn't necessarily life-saving yet it is widely promoted. "Dialysis is available, but we have come to accept and to even encourage people to take risks to donate a kidney," he said.
Aside from this ethical issue, there is also the problem that the trial cannot assure a healthy pregnancy and healthy babies.
"Mats Brannstrom has done something amazing and we understand completely why he has taken this route, but we are wary of that approach," Dr Richard Smith, head of the UK charity Womb Transplant UK, which is trying to raise £500,000 to carry out five operations in Britain, told the Associated Press.
Dr. Smith explained that a uterus transplant required a bigger chunk of the surrounding blood vessels to be taken, which will ensure sufficient blood flow to the organ. This in turn raises the risk of complications for the donor. He also said, "The principal concern for me is if the baby will get enough nourishment from the placenta and if the blood flow is good enough."
The world's first womb transplant took place in Saudi Arabia in 2000. However, a blood clot forced its removal after three months. In 2013, Turkish doctors said a patient became pregnant after a successful womb transplant; however, she had a miscarriage two months after conceiving.