Womb Transplants: Unethical Experimentation on Children

surgeonsWomb transplants are in the news again and I have seen a few posts around the Catholic blogosphere questioning what such a transplant might mean, ethically.

First, some background: A womb transplant is exactly what it sounds like. Women who were either born without a uterus or have had their uterus removed after suffering cervical cancer have a presumably healthy, normally functioning uterus transplanted into them. These can come either from living or deceased donors. In 2012, doctors in Sweden performed the first “mother-daughter” uterus transplants.

Last April Derya Sert from Turkey became the first woman to have an embryo implanted into a transplanted womb from a deceased donor. By May, unfortunately, it was reported that the pregnancy had been “terminated” because the baby’s heartbeat had stopped.

Now, an unidentified woman in Sweden has had an embryo implanted into her transplanted womb which was donated by her mother. This woman is one of nine who received a uterus transplant last year.

This subject has been covered here at Catholic Lane a few times already by my god friend Rebecca Taylor:
Mother, Daughter Uterus Transplants
Woman With Uterus Transplant Confirmed Pregnant

The main problems that I see are:

a.) that women who have these transplants must necessarily use IVF, which the Church condemns, in order to even attempt to become pregnant — which is the sole purpose for the womb transplant.

b.) as Rebecca points out, the only way to test to see if such transplants are “successful” is to implant a human embryo and see whether it will develop to term without any complications or not. Making the child an experiment. Not part of an experiment, but the actual experiment, itself. Consider these words from the professor who lead the transplant team in Sweden:

“The best scenario is a baby in nine months…A success would be an important proof of principle that a procedure is now available to cure uterine infertility.”

c.) and, of course, there is the fact that both the donor and the potential mother’s lives are being put at risk for a non-life threatening condition. Even the most routine surgery is nothing to sneeze at. Add in the fact that you’re doing it for something that is not life threatening and the risks of such a procedure almost surely outweigh the possible rewards.

Some have wondered whether the ethics would be different if scientists were able to attach the fallopian tubes and the women could conceive naturally. It might make for a slightly better scenario, but I think even in that case b and c above would still apply. A successful birth would still be the measure for whether or not such transplants are “successful”, so the child would still be an experiment. And it remains a great risk for a non-life threatening condition.

As Rebecca said with the first successful embryo implantation, now is the time to pray for the life of this child in Sweden. Pray that he or she is born healthy with no complications. It’s tempting to not want this kind of experimentation to succeed so that it doesn’t become more common in the future. But we have to remember that failure, in this case, means the death of a human being.

Chelsea Zimmerman is the editor-in-chief for Catholic Lane and a managing editor at Ignitum Today. She often writes and speaks about life issues and Catholic spirituality. She has been featured on EWTN's Life on the Rock. Her website is Reflections of a Paralytic.