When should a doctor say “you just can’t have a baby”?
Overnight news broke Swedish doctors have made a startling breakthrough in fertility treatment, by transplanting the functioning wombs of two women into their own adult daughters.
They’ll now give the new uteruses a year to settle in before trying for pregnancies with IVF. It’s an incredible medical development, that will give some infertile women hope they will one day become biological mothers.
The clinical director of women’s health at Westmead Hospital in Sydney Dr Andrew Pesce told ABC radio this morning: “It’s obviously emotionally a much more powerful and strong bond and experience if the woman carries the baby herself. I think it’s not possible to anticipate yet that such women could give birth naturally.”
“But if they were able to carry a fertilised egg, probably implanted via IVF (In-Vitro Fertilisation), and have the baby delivered by caesarean section, that would still be a tremendous advance for those women.”
“I fundamentally think that it will be possible and when we do see that happening it will be a major advance for this unfortunate group of women.”
It’s not new that people are willing to go to great lengths and expense to become parents.
As a parent who for quite some time faced the very real prospect of never having children, and was lucky enough to conceive thanks to talented doctors and scientists, I’d be loath to ever tell someone to just give up.
But there has to come a point, surely, where people don’t have to give up hope as such, but perhaps change what they hope for.
How far should we as a society be prepared to go to give women the chance to carry their own babies?
One fertility specialist I dealt with told me a colleague was about to put a woman through her 23rd round of IVF. She was well into her 40s and the chance of success was so tiny as to be negligible.
I would argue, and most doctors would probably agree, that this woman needed counseling, not hormone injections.
The two Swedish women who have undergone surgery now have a year to prepare themselves for the possibility of disappointment.
One of them had lost her uterus to cancer, another was born without one.
That biological motherhood is even an option for them is amazing really. Their drive to get pregnant, as opposed to adopting one of millions of parentless children or finding other ways to be fulfilled, must be overwhelming.
That it even crossed their minds to ask their mothers to donate the very wombs from which they came is evidence of that drive.
They are not to be judged here. But there’s a legitimate debate to be had about what people can expect, and what hope the medical community should offer.
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