56-year-old Eva Ottosson will donate her womb to her 25-year-old daughter, Sara, who has a rare disorder, Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome (MRKH), which causes the uterus and vagina to be underdeveloped or absent. The Ottossons are awaiting approval from doctors to see if the surgery — one of the world’s first womb transplants for humans — will be carried out. As the Guardian reports, the operation is still highly experimental and carries risks for both the donor and the recipient.
MRKH is also known as Müllerian agenesis and is very rare, occurring in one out of 5000 women. Sara Ottosson, a biology teacher in Stockholm, learned that she had the condition when she was high school age and did not start menstruating. Notes the Guardian:
If the operation goes ahead – at a hospital in Sweden – Sara could conceive and carry a child in the same womb she herself was born from, but serious technical hurdles must be cleared if the procedure is to succeed.The operation is experimental and still at a premature stage in animal studies. Only a handful of mice have been born from transplanted wombs and little work has been done in larger animals, such as pigs, rabbits and monkeys.
The deeply complex nature of the operation carries serious risks for the donor and recipient, leading some doctors to claim the procedure is not ready to be performed in humans. “As a mother you have all these questions: have you thought it through; do you know what you are doing; how do you feel about having the same womb that you have been developed in yourself,” Eva Ottosson told the BBC.
Ottosson notes that she’s aware of the risks to herself, but more worried about what might happen to her daughter. Womb transplant surgery is “technically more demanding than a heart, kidney or liver transplant” and carries, among other risks, the possibility of “life-threatening haemorrhage and an insufficient blood supply to the womb.” A 26-year-old Saudi Arabian woman had a womb from a dead donor transplanted in 2000, but doctors had to remove the organ when, after three months, “it developed a blood clot and began to die.” In 2009, surgeons and veterinarians performed womb transplant operations in several rabbits, none of whom became pregnant afterwards.
Dr. Mats Brannstrom of Gothenburg University in Sweden is a “leader in the field of experimental womb transplants” and runs a program in which women are tested to see if they are suitable for such a transplant. Sara Ottosson is one of seven women who have undergone the tests so far. Brannstrom says that such womb transplants could be carried out as early as next year.
Were a womb transplant to occur, a woman would then need to IVF to become pregnant from her eggs and her partner’s sperm, and the baby would have to be delivered by Caesarean section.
Would the benefits of being able to carry one’s own child outweigh the risks of such experimental surgery as a womb transplant?
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