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First Uterus Transplant in US Being Planned

A New York hospital is taking initial steps to offer the first uterus transplant in the United States. Doctors in Saudi Arabia performed the procedure a few years ago but had to remove the transplanted uterus three months later because of blood clots. Now a doctor in New York says the time is right to try again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the procedure and the controversy surrounding it.

At New York's Downtown Hospital, doctors are preparing for their first attempt to transplant a uterus. The procedure would go like this:

Surgeons would transplant a donated uterus into the recipient through an incision just below the navel.

The recipient's frozen embryo would then be transferred into her new womb.

She would give birth by Caesarian section. And then, the donated uterus would be removed so the woman would no longer have to take anti-rejection drugs.

The procedure raises many ethical and medical concerns. Fertility specialist Dr. Sherman Silber explains, "At any time during the nine months of pregnancy it could very easily reject. And if a pregnant uterus rejects, you've got a serious medical problem."

Simply put, the mother's life, and that of her fetus, would be in danger.

New York Downtown Hospital says doctors will first attempt the procedure on primates in the next three months before any attempt is made on women.

Dr. Giuseppe Del Priore is interviewing possible candidates. "We've spent ten years and thousands and thousands of hours trying to make this as safe as possible. We take it very seriously. And the person who is eventually going to be the first candidate has to have a tremendous understanding of that risk."

Those risks raise ethical questions. Many ethicists say the very reason for a transplant is to save lives, not to put someone's life in danger.

Lori Andrews from the Chicago-Kent College of Law compare the need for such a transplant to a kidney transplant, for example. "We give kidney transplants to people who would die otherwise, and we do that because transplants are very risky."

But transplants are also done to improve the quality of life. Face transplants have improved the lives of people in France and China. Hand transplants are becoming more common. Women who are unable to have children because of cancer or other disorders say a uterine transplant gives them hope that one day they will have the chance to love and nurture a baby that came from their own womb.

Cancer survivor Judy Brunstein says she would consider it. "The chance that I could have carried my own child would have been such a gift."