Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mother to Give Daughter Uterus in Transplant to Give Birth

by Steven Ertelt

A mother has decided to give her daughter her uterus in what may become the first-ever transplant, according to a medical team in Sweden that recently made the announcement.

“We have reached a stage where we have started to plan for a human transplant and we are investigating 10 pairs, most of those are mother and daughters,” Mats Braenstroem told AFP. He said the uterus transplant would take place “hopefully at the beginning of next year.”

“Technically it is lot more difficult than transplanting a kidney, liver or heart. The difficulty with it is avoiding hemorrhage and making sure you have long enough blood vessels to connect the womb,” he said. “You are also working deep down in the pelvis area and it is like working in a funnel. It is not like working with a kidney, which is really accessible.”

Braenstroem has assembled a team of doctors at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital and has been researching the transplant surgery for a decade, including looking into the first transplant involving unrelated women, which took place in Saudi Arabia in 2002.

“There can just be an advantage because they are more similar in their tissues so there could be less rejection in that situation,” he told AFP of the difference between the two surgeries.

The younger of the women, Sara Ottosson, who is 25, told the tabloid Expressen she is excited about the prospects of giving birth, though she never mentioned the possibility of adoption.

“I have been given an opportunity I did not think was possible,” she said. “I have always loved children. Over the past five years I have felt intense sorrow over not being able to have children of my own. It’s an organ just like any other and it has no genetic significance. I work as a biology teacher and I don’t think it’s strange.”

Her mother, Eva Ottosson, is 56 and told media outlets she wants to help her daughter since she no longer has use for the uterus.

“I think all parents do what they can to help their children if it feels right,” she told Aftonbladet. “My daughter and I are both very rational people and we both think ‘it’s just a womb.’”

“She needs the womb and if I’m the best donor for her … well, go on. She needs it more than me. I’ve had two daughters so it’s served me well,’ she said.

But American bioethicist and attorney Wesley J. Smith has moral problems with the transplant.

“I know I am spitting in the wind, but that’s my job. We permit voluntary organ donations of one kidney or a slice of liver.  While things usually work out fine, there is no question the donation risks the health or life of the donor.  But the point is to save a life,” he explained. “Now, the issue of voluntary organ donation is being taken to the next step: A mother is going to donate her uterus to allow her daughter to give birth. I don’t think this should be done.”

“The donor’s body is not going to be violated (in the non pejorative sense) to save a life, but permit the recipient’s deeply desired dream to come true,” Smith continued. “I understand and empathize with the yearning, but is it worth the donor dying or health complications should that unlikely event occur? At some point, do doctors have to refuse to “harm” the donor–even if that is what the donor wants? I think so, and that probably makes three of us–me, myself, and I.”

“This story brings up another issue: Our odd ethical relationship with procreation,” Smith said. “On one hand society countenances moving heaven and earth to allow a woman to have a baby–or pay others to be “gestation carriers,” for eggs, etc..  We test IVF embryos for eugenic and health quality control and throw the spares away as medical waste or turn them into research resources.  And if the developing fetus doesn’t meet quality standards, the once urgently desired child is simply aborted–which can happen even if the yearned-to-be-mother simply changes her mind.”

Smith lamented that “Choice’ is the be all and end all in the world of procreation today. But there should be reasonable parameters.”

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