The Corner

The Bioethics of Womb Transplants

Earlier this week, doctors in Sweden announced that they had performed two uterus transplants — the first time the procedure has been done with living donors. (A uterus collected from a deceased donor was transplanted by doctors in Turkey last year.) Both of the uterus donors in Sweden were women in their fifties who donated their wombs to their daughters. One of the recipients had been born without a uterus, while the other had lost hers to cervical cancer.

While the surgeries went smoothly, Michael Olausson, one of the surgeons involved in the transplants, said that “the best proof” of success for the procedures will be when the women are able to give birth to healthy babies. Unlike kidney transplants or bone-marrow transfusions, transplanting a uterus is not a life-saving procedure, but is rather part of a life-creating fertility treatment. But in experimentally treating the conditions under which life is created, this procedure raises a different set of ethical concerns than other experimental medical therapies, since the safety and wellbeing of the children being created needs to be taken into consideration.

The attraction of various assisted-reproductive techniques is obvious: Infertility can be a painful and tragic experience. But many of these techniques — surrogacy, in vitro fertilization, and now uterine transplants — raise important ethical questions about their effects on the children they create, and also on the relationship between the generations. These questions deserve careful attention from patients, doctors, and in at least some role, the public at large.

— Brendan Foht is assistant editor of The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society.

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