UK’s first successful womb transplant – key questions answered

[W]hile the procedure may have life-transforming potential for some women, there are ethical considerations to take into account.

Since the first successful womb transplants in 2012, around 100 procedures have now been performed around the world, leading to the birth of around 50 babies. Teams in Sweden and the US have been particularly successful in pioneering the technique.

Womb transplantation involves serious surgery and significant recovery time, but so do many other types of surgery that are designed not to save life, but to enhance its quality. However, most other non-life-saving surgeries do not involve a living donor undergoing a highly invasive procedure with a long recovery period.

There is also some evidence that women who undergo hysterectomy – even where it doesn’t trigger menopause – can experience depression as a result.

Of course, counselling can help warn potential donors about these risks and ensure their consent is well-informed. But it cannot remove risk, and consent alone is not enough to make a procedure ethical.

Another type of safety concern might arise around the supply of wombs for transplantation. There are alarming reports of organ black markets and vulnerable people being trafficked for their organs, including in the UK. Once womb transplantation becomes more widespread, similar concerns might arise in relation to wombs.

Less dramatically, as womb transplantation becomes more commonplace, women might feel under subtle pressure to donate to eligible family members (many of the transplants to date have involved family members). They may even put this pressure on themselves.

The UK’s first womb transplant was not publicly funded: a charity covered some of the £25,000 cost and surgeons donated their time. However, as the procedure becomes more mainstream, there may well be calls to provide it on the NHS, including (when the technique is sufficiently developed) for trans women patients, and this will undoubtedly be controversial.

Source: UK’s first successful womb transplant – key questions answered

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