Bioethics Blogs

Uterine Transplantation Redux: Another Boundary Issue in Medicine

Speaking of boundaries…which I spoke about in my last blog
It was one and half years ago, in September of 2014 that the first baby was born following a successful uterine transplantation in Sweden. While the baby was apparently healthy, Dr. Mats Brannstrom, the pioneering physician in Sweden 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.”

In November 2015, uterine transplantation hit the news again when the Cleveland Clinic announced plans to begin a clinical trial of “highly experimental” uterine transplantation using cadaveric organs—for reasons of “safety.” The experimental procedure is lauded by many as “open(ing) the door to an innovative and promising advancement within reproductive medicine.” Dr. Alan Lichtin, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s ethics board, further justified the procedure by noting that the committee’s initial impression was, “This is really pushing the envelope. But this is the way human progress occurs.” There it is again: the god of progress for which we will sacrifice not only lives, but all boundaries.

Uterine transplantation, in fact, pushes the envelope both medically and ethically It is the first transplant procedure involving a non-vital organ, and the first considered “ephemeral” because of its temporary nature—it is removed after one or two children have been produced to avoid the ongoing risks of immunosuppressive drugs.

The defining concern in uterine transplantation, however, is its motivation: this is not an issue of health, but of experience, one that is being dubiously linked to health care by labeling it a “quality of life” issue.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.