New York Doctors Plan Uterus Transplant A team of doctors in New York is screening patients for the first uterine transplant in the United States. The experimental surgery would allow a woman to receive a donated uterus in order to give birth to her own child. One doctor and bioethics expert weighs in on the idea.
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New York Doctors Plan Uterus Transplant

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New York Doctors Plan Uterus Transplant

New York Doctors Plan Uterus Transplant

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up: German university students are going to be taking lessons from America. First, a team of doctors in New York is screening patients for the first uterus transplant in the U.S. The physicians say the surgery could make it possible for a woman with a damaged uterus to actually give birth. Some medical ethicists raised strong objections, however, and one of them is Dr. Thomas Murray. He's president of the Hastings Center for Bioethics. Tom Murray, welcome to the program.

Dr. THOMAS MURRAY (President, Hastings Center for Bioethics): Oh, thanks very much, Alex.

CHADWICK: First, help us understand exactly what this surgery would involve. How would it work?

Dr. MURRAY: As I understand it, the uterus would be taken from one woman - who would become the donor - and would be transplanted into the body of a second woman. That would be an organ transplant very much like a kidney or a liver or heart transplant, with all the problems a transplantation raises.

CHADWICK: The womb is transplanted, and then - according to this procedure -you would have in vitro fertilization, a fertilized egg would be placed into this womb, and then nine months later, the baby is born and the uterus is removed. This is a temporary transplant. I've never heard of such a thing.

Dr. MURRAY: Neither had I. I mean, in a way, all organ transplants are temporary. We've very pleased when transplanted organs survive for 10 years. Once you've had an organ transplanted, you basically you fight a battle. You're on a knife's edge everyday between your body's efforts to kill that organ and reject it, and the transplant drugs which knock down your immune system and make you vulnerable to a variety of infections.

CHADWICK: So would the drugs that the patient is taking to prevent rejection of the womb, would that - might that affect the infant in some way?

Dr. MURRAY: That's a very important consideration in thinking about the ethics of this case. I mean, when you do a traditional organ transplant, it - the risks of accepting the organ fall entirely on the individual, on the recipient. If you're having a womb transplant, a uterine transplant, than it's not only the recipient whose health is placed in danger, but it's potentially any child who would be conceived and born in that womb.

CHADWICK: Transplants are done to save lives. I mean, they're medically necessary. This kind of surgery really wouldn't be medically necessary. It's not absolutely necessary to save a woman's life that she be allowed to carry a child. Would there be different regulations about this kind of surgery? Or is it permissible if that is what the patient says she really, really wants?

Dr. MURRAY: Because it could be billed as a therapeutic innovation and not a formal form of human experimentation, it wouldn't necessarily be highly regulated. I mean, the surgeon's conduct could be revisited by the surgeon peers. But the FDA, for example, I doubt would have any grounds to regulate this. It's merely a new surgical procedure. They would be using the same family of anti-rejection drugs that would be used to any transplantation.

So they might just be able to do it if they can convince the institution to permit it and if they can convince a woman to be the recipient and that they can obtain a donor of uterus.

CHADWICK: You know, I'll bet, Tom Murray, they wouldn't have to convince a woman to do this. I bet there are women who want to do this. You might even know a woman who might just very much want to carry a child to birth because it seems like such a part of the human experience.

Dr. MURRAY: I am profoundly sympathetic to any person, man or woman, who wants to have their own child, and to a woman who wants to have the experience of childbirth. I mean, I published a book a decade ago called "The Worth of a Child." I think in that book I speak to that shared love of children. But let's - if a member of my family came to me and said that she were contemplating this, I have to confess I would do everything in my power to persuade her that this is a terrible idea - that she would be running risk to her own health and potentially very graverous to the health of any baby who might be conceived in this transplanted uterus. Maybe in 10, 20 years when the drugs are working beautifully and they're not so toxic and such, but not today.

CHADWICK: Dr. Thomas Murray, president of the Hastings Center for Bioethics. Tom Murray, thank you.

Dr. MURRAY: Thanks very much, Alex.

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