by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.
Almost like Aphrodite herself, surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic this week may have given fertility to a 26-year-old woman through a 9-hour uterus transplant operation. The transplanted uterus was from a deceased woman. This was the first such surgery in the United States, though it has been performed previously in Sweden and Turkey. Of the 9 women in Sweden who had the procedure, 4 have given birth.
The American patient had uterine factor infertility, which result from fibroids, scarification, genetics, or not having developed a uterus. For the surgeons and patients, this technique offers a way for the patient to potentially carry a child to term.
In the U.S., the Cleveland Clinic’s method involved the patient undergoing in vitro fertilization techniques to produce at least 10 frozen embryos. Then a donor was sought and her next of kin had to sign a special informed consent document for the procedure. The patient and her new uterus will be given a year to heal at which point an embryo will be defrosted and doctors will implant it. The embryos will be transferred one at a time. If one does implant, the resulting baby will be delivered by Caesarean section.
The benefit to this involved operation is clear, a woman is given the ability to gestate an embryo. She has a genetically-related child which she carried.
The risks are not slight. The potential mother will have to take immune suppressants—drugs that in the long term are known to include greater risk of infection, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and bone marrow suppression.
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.