Would you donate your womb?

Would you donate your womb to a woman who doesn’t have one, so she has the chance of becoming pregnant?

We hear a lot about life-giving transplants – heart, lung, liver or kidney transplants – but this isn’t about that.  It’s about the booming baby industry and the great race to produce the first healthy baby from a transplanted womb.

The Fairfax press reported this week that there is a database of 500 Australian women who have registered interest in the procedure.

Over one year ago Swedish doctor Mats Brannstrom performed nine pioneering womb transplants – five of them mother-to-daughter.  The other wombs came from a recipients’ older sister, an aunt, a mother-in-law and a family friend.  The youngest donor was 37.  All the others were over 50, and the oldest 62.

What a minefield.  The process is ethically fraught and the health risks are significant, particularly as the transfers are from live donors, not deceased ones (which reportedly minimises surgical risks).

The transplant surgery was much more complicated than the surgeons expected.  One recipient suffered a uterine infection, resulting in the removal of her donated womb.  Another woman’s womb was removed after she suffered thrombosis.

But five women have already had their first embryos transplanted by IVF.  Brannstrom will not reveal if any of them are pregnant.

One Adelaide woman said, “To me it doesn’t feel like getting somebody else’s body part.  I feel like it’s my chance to have my own baby.  And the way my mum feels about it is that she’s giving a uterus to get a grandchild.”

My concern is that we seem to be treating children, babies, as commodities.  My chance to have “my own” baby.  Mum’s giving a uterus “to get” a grandchild. 

Advocates of womb transplantation say it will allow women without wombs to have the experience of bearing a child, unlike adoption.

It’s a tough one isn’t it?  As a woman and mother I understand the deep desire of women to become mothers and bear children, but why is adoption considered such a second-rate option?  Surely it delivers what a woman craves – a child, the gift of a life, the precious vocation of motherhood.  Women I know who have adopted children tell me they very much feel like mothers with their “own” children.

There have been significant medical advancements in treating infertility, particularly IVF, but where do we stop with reproductive science?  Or don’t we?  Who decides?  And how?

One thing I know is that reading about complicated womb transplants from live donors, so a group of women can have the chance of their “own” baby, leaves me feeling uneasy.