Over a year ago, Swedish doctor Mats Brannstrom and his team carried out nine future-forward womb transplants, most of them mother to daughter transplants. A year later, Brannstrom and his team are still providing some major follow-up to the transplant recipients, mainly due to the fact that womb transplants aren’t simple. According to past research on baboons, the team thought a typical transplant might take around four hours, but human transplants actually took much longer – between 10 and 13 hours on average. In order to provide better blood flow to women who might soon be carrying a baby in their transplanted womb, the team had to transplant long veins and arteries along with the womb in order to provide better flow of blood to potential fetuses. So far so good though. Two recipients have had the transplanted wombs removed due to infection and thrombosis, but considering five women have already had their first embryos transplanted in the transplanted wombs via IVF, this is still a fairly happy success story for women who can’t have kids. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “This puts Brannstrom and Sahlgrenksa Institute in the lead in the race for the first healthy baby from a transplanted womb. And thousands of women without wombs around the world are watching every development.”
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Though Brannstrom’s team notes that there are currently about 500 women who have expressed interest in being the next transplant recipients, some people are questioning the ethics of transplants that aren’t about saving lives, especially when major surgery always poses a risk to the recipient, and sometimes the donor, assuming a live donor is used. Brannstrom’s team have been using wombs from live donors, while others around the world attempting this kind of procedure are sourcing wombs from deceased people, to minimize surgical risks on at least one side of the operating table. Ruby Catsanos, a medical ethicist at Macquarie University, states the following to Sydney Morning Herald, “‘It will be a highly, highly medicalised birth, nothing like the highly romanticized idea of pregnancy that many young women have. They can’t attach the nerves, so the womb itself will be numb. The women will have … IVF, a cesarean birth, and even between all that, there will be constant monitoring.” Still many women dreaming of motherhood are likely willing to have a more medically challenged birth, as long as they get to have a baby — and other advocates of the procedure say womb transplants are a good idea, enabling women to have a real childbirth experience that adoption or surrogacy can’t provide.