Back when I first read about Swedish doctors’ successful transplant of two wombs into two women with their mothers serving as the donors, my first thought was “What a sweet, meaningful, and miraculous way to cure endometriosis!” Because having a hysterectomy is a huge and terrifying notion, and it’s slightly less weighty if you have hope of getting a uterus again – especially if it’s the very one you sprang into life from!
Of course I realize that this is literally on the cutting edge of medicine and won’t be widely available for a long time – probably not in my lifetime.
Over the summer, after having my third surgery to remove endometriosis adhesions, I found out that I have PCOS – Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – and I haven’t written much about that here yet. Frankly I still don’t know much yet. Emotionally, though, it’s been a taxing time. I’m at an age and place in life where we want kids – soon! Plus, in my case, pregnancy is the most promising line of treatment for endometriosis.
Well, a lot of new thoughts have been coming in waves. What if I never have kids? Could I adopt? Would I even qualify? Could I afford to? Could I try to find a surrogate mother? Does this mean God doesn’t want me to have kids? Is it selfish to want to have your “own” kids? If I can’t have kids, I will have endometriosis for the rest of my life.
Yeah, notice that last one isn’t a question. It’s just an awful fact that keeps rearing it’s ugly head. Hypothetical, yes, but still crippling.
So I’ve taken a new interest in these trial runs of uterine transplants. This would not only be a possible cure for endometriosis, but it could even allow for childbirth. In the cases in Sweden, the women had their own ovaries and therefore their own eggs, making the children they could bear genetically their own. Well awesome! So what happened?
Well, the internet gets fuzzy. There hasn’t been much recent news coverage about the aftermath, which I’m guessing isn’t a good sign. In Saudi Arabia in the year 2000, a woman had the first ever uterus transplant. It wasn’t from a relative, and I don’t know if that contributed to the subsequent failure. The uterus functioned for a few months but had to ultimately be removed due to blood clotting.
The two Swedish women who received wombs from their mothers were undergoing IVF (In vitro fertility) treatment but I haven’t found any record that either of them had a successful pregnancy, much less birth. I found one woman who received a later transplant from her mother who did conceive, but ultrasound showed no heartbeat and the baby was lost.
So it sounds like so far, this transplant stuff hasn’t worked.
Of course, it’s still done a lot of good. One of the original Swedish women was born without a uterus, and she was able to have her first period at age 30. That may not sound great to any men or healthy women, but for her and other women with similar stories, just having a period was a huge turning point for them. They got to experience being healthy and “normal,” and they reported that they finally really felt like women. Menstruation isn’t the funnest thing ever but it is healthy and good for you.
There has been a bit of debate on morality here. Not so much on the childbirth part since that hasn’t even been possible yet, but more on the idea of such a traumatic operation that isn’t life-saving. Apart from insurance companies immediately disowning it, people question if it’s right to offer such drastic and risky medical procedures that isn’t life or death. I say clearly these people don’t have chronic pain. I mean isn’t a hysterectomy pretty drastic and risky? Well endometriosis isn’t life-threatening either, but people still have major organs removed because of it. I can’t understand the morality debate on this at all – especially when it would definitely be a calculated choice on the part of the people involved since it’s new and therefore expensive. WILDLY expensive. Plus you need to find a donor – and there does seem to be benefits to having it be a family member. So that’s another party who would make a calculated choice. It’s not a glamorous choice, it’s not like cosmetic surgery, it can really impact quality of life.
Which brings up another huge thing to think about in all of this – how do you even ask your mom for an organ? That is one thing that is hard because it’s not life-saving. It might really improve your quality of life but that is still a HUGE thing to ask of anyone. Which is probably why these talks only happen when life is on the line. Your family doesn’t want you to DIE, so they’ll undergo some medical trauma. But this? Unless you have a mom who’s begging for grandchildren, the topic seems a little inaccessible. And this has nothing to do with my mom in particular – I don’t know how I could even ask my husband for a body part if I wasn’t about to die.
What do you think? Many of you sweet readers have a chronic illness – if there was a body part a family member could donate to improve your quality of life, would you ask for it? How would you talk about it?
Do you think there’s a moral issue with drastic medical procedures that aren’t life-saving?
Do you think something as drastic as uterus transplants could be used to treat endometriosis? Or should it be reserved for a fertility treatment?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Like I said, I haven’t seen much news coverage on where this technology is going, so join the discussion while it’s fresh and there’s no right or wrong answers. Medical technology is always fascinating and great fodder for deep discussion.