A team of doctors at the Cleveland Clinic is preparing to transplant a uterus for the first time in the U.S. In the next few months, surgeons will extract the uterus from a deceased donor and transplant it into an infertile woman so that she might be able to carry a child herself.
The transplant will have to be combined with in vitro fertilization and the uterus will likely have to be removed after the woman carries a child or two.
“Right now, it sounds extreme or outlandish,” said Denise Grady, medical reporter at the New York Times who first covered this story. “But so did some of the things that we take for granted now. In the very early days of in vitro fertilization, people didn’t think it was going take off and it really did.”
Grady said the procedure might eventually become another tool available to treat infertility in women whose uterus has been damaged or removed, or for women who were born without one.
“One in every 4,500 baby girls are born without a uterus,” said Grady. “It’s rare, but it’s certainly more than I would have expected.”
From the 1970s onward, there’s been increasing efforts to allow women to have children the way they want, said Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin Madison.
Charo views this process as rather extreme compared to, say, adoption or using a surrogate, though the latter has had its own ethical issues.
“Certainly surrogacy has been problematic where it’s been used in ways that are exploitative,” she said. “Where it’s been used to entice women who might not actually want to do this, but feel compelled to do it because their circumstances are so extreme.”
Charo says transplants limit the risk to the pregnant woman herself and her child.