a bird and a bottle

Uteri for Sale?
January 23, 2007, 8:45 am
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, news

I’ve been struggling with what to make of last week’s first ever uterus transplant. Cara at Reproductive Rights Blog’s not sure either, but she gives us two sides of the debate: proponents say it will allow more women to experience pregnancy and birth (instead of adopting); opponents say parenthood is more than the pregnancy (I’m not sure how this cuts, though, since the transplantee would assumedly be raising the child).

At the NAPW conference, in addressing who gets to be a legitimate reproducer, Miriam Yeung of the GLBT Community Center got to the heart of my discomfort with the procedure and with the prospect of a transplantable womb. She described the envisioned procedure for enabling a woman to become a mother through a uterus transplant:  the uterus would be transferred; the woman would take strong anti-rejection medication; she would go through IVF and hopefully become pregnant; she would continue to take the strong drugs throughout her pregnancy; close to her due date, she would undergo a cesarean section at which point the doctors would remove not only the child but also the uterus, since doing so can avoid the necessity of taking the anti-rejection medication forever and minimize complications.

Yeung called this the invention of the single-use disposable uterus.

Yep. And that’s what makes me nervous. By making uteri disposable for women of childbearing age – or rather, I should say, MORE disposable since they have always been so for poor women, women of color, and women with disabilities through forced or strongly suggested hysterectomies – we diminish the value of whole women and again reduce women to the sum of our parts.

I definitely see the value for some (wealthy) women to this procedure (though I worry for all those millions of kids awaiting adoption). Given that I have never tried to get pregnant, nevermind tried in vain, I cannot imagine how heartbreaking the process might be. But I also think we can’t ignore the political ramifications of many new scientific advances. How close to science fiction do we have to get before we get creeped out? For me, we’re already there.


6 Comments so far
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What if we just implanted the uterii in men and took a few months off?

Comment by cara

Then they would have to have c-sections…no penis dilation as far as I know.

Comment by bean

Yeah, I’m not so sure how I feel. On the one hand, I really do see the value for women who might not ever otherwise get the opportunity (albeit, generally wealthy white women — such as my spouse who just had a hysterectomy of a seriously abnormal uterus that prevented her from getting pregnant, despite really trying).

I do, naturally, see the other side too.

Still, at the end of the day, we are people and NOT just the some of our parts and whatever we choose to do with our parts — abortion, sex change, amputation, transplants, etc. should be up to us as people, and NOT up to some paternalistic society deciding what’s best for us (caveat — we’d need to ensure (how? I don’t know) that other women are not harmed by this — we don’t want a black market for the sale of uterii!).

Comment by Denise

some = sum

::sheesh:: You’d think I’d learn to proofread. This bar exam is *so* going to kick my ass.

Comment by Denise

I totally agree that the choices should be up to us without a paternalistic government or polity telling us what to do with our bodies and our lives. Do you think that an ideal situation would make procedures like uterus transplants available (and would work to ensure that there is no black market)?

Assumedly, they would not be covered by medicaid, and probably not by most health insurers either, since they are not “medically necessary,” and we all know how stingy insurers are, especially when it comes to pregnancy.

I agree that women should have the autonomy to make decisions in cases like this w/o paternalistic controls. But I guess I also worry about increased pressure on already vulnerable women (say women who give birth while incarcerated for whom it is “suggested” that they have a hysterectomy at the same time as their c-section, or programs like C.R.A.C.K. (now Project Prevention) which offer drug-using or alcoholic women money to get long term birth control or hysterectomies).

Bottom line: I’m really conflicted on this one.

(ps: I hope your spouse is recovering well!)

Comment by bean

Personally, I think that we should be tampering less with pregnancies, not more. While it is true that science and medicine has done much for increasing lifespan and quality of life, sometimes it goes too far. For example, keeping someone on life support just because you cannot bear to lose them.

But in this specific situation I and talking about preemies and other complications. Since 1981 the incidences of premature births have gone up steadily to 12.5% of all births (in 2004). They amount for 34% of infant deaths and cost $51,600 per infant(to keep alive) and often suffer long term health problems such as cerebral palsy.

Much of this increase can be tied to the increase of fertility clinics and drugs. Socioeconomic status and race also play a significant role as well.

This is ultimately just about money. There is a lot of money to be made in dealing with pregnancies and children. This is a wonderful way for medicine to cash in. I hope that something good can come from this. For example what if we could take those donated uteri and instead use them with other technologies to create post delivery environments for preemies.

Bottom line: science has to stop serving itself and start to serve mankind.

Comment by Dan

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