Like many others, I was elated to hear that ten British women are set to receive womb transplants. That’s not because I have any desire just yet to have children; I do not. In fact, anyone that knows me is familiar with my uncomfortableness around them; small, sticky, and loud, they kind of make my blood boil. Just get on the tube with me at half term, you’ll see.
I’m delighted because I believe it’s a woman’s right (and man’s really) to have a child of their own. So many families desperately desire a child, but they can’t conceive. There are loads of complicated reasons for this; cancer of the uterus leading to a hysterectomy, incompatible genes, and some are just unlucky. Just because people like me have no desire to take care of a screaming, over-dependent nappy ball right now, doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve the right to in the future.
There’s always a lot of controversy when science and fertility cross over. Last year, there was a lot of press devoted to ‘three-person IVF’ – which, I might add, is a complete media disaster of a name. This is a specialised method of IVF which takes a future baby’s mitochondria from someone other than the two parents.
This amazing technique can help people with a history of mitochondrial disease in their family, to ensure that their baby doesn’t have it. Mitochondrial disease isn’t something you can live with. This wasn’t a case of creating Franken-babies or parents wanting their child to be perfect; this was parents not wanting their child to suffer and die.
In short, mitochondria are basically people’s batteries. They are in every cell of your body except red blood cells and they convert the energy from your food into molecules you can use to basically to everything. Breathing, moving, eating, digesting, thinking, the list goes on. So yeah, they’re pretty important and with mitochondrial disease, your chances are limited.
Interfering media and cynics
Alas, some of the media, with the help of ignorant hypochondriacs, put a less than positive spin on mitochondrial donation. Some believed that replacing broken mitochondria with some that worked was ‘unnatural’ and ‘not God’s will’. “We shouldn’t be messing around with genes,” they would say.
Well, quite simple, mitochondria aren’t human. Sure, they’re in basically all our cells, but nobody is actually 100% sure about where they came from. One theory is that they were microorganisms which lived within other things, and decided to make a home within the cells of early beings, which then turned into humans. So, if you’re going down the unnatural route, you’re at a big of a dead end. They’re all invaders. No mitochondrion belongs to anyone specifically anyway. It is by pure chance that yours work and someone else’s don’t.
But back to womb transplants. The UK’s Health Research Authority has been given permission to run a clinical trial of ten women to receive womb transplants, and it is set to begin next year.
Wombs are going to be taken from brain-dead donors, rather than the live donor that made it possible for a woman in Sweden to give birth to the first baby from a uterine transplant in 2014.
There are risks of course. Pregnant women will have to take strong immuno-suppression drugs to stop her body rejecting the womb, and long term effects of these on a foetus are unknown.
To this, however, I say: who cares? A 36 year old woman in Sweden was born without a womb, and now she has a healthy baby boy.
The boy’s father said: “It was a pretty tough journey over the years, but we now have the most amazing baby.”
What gift could be more important than that? It is no-one else’s right to dictate what should or should not be necessary for a woman to have a child. With all medical procedures, risks should be carefully thought through and every woman taking part in the trial should be aware of them, but it is ultimately up to them if they wish to take part and give themselves a chance of becoming a mother.
Opinions and risks
Like with three-person IVF, there is likely to be a lot of opinions flying around when the study goes ahead. People can be very vocal about messing with the ‘miracle of life’ – that can be very easy to do from a privileged position, when you conceive child after child with no problems.
IVF alone still conjures up embarrassment with some older people, but I say it’s time to leave that behind. It still has a hint of feeling around the subject that is somehow goes against nature, but I hope that has ended with my generation and parents will no longer feel that they have to hide that they had to seek medical help.
Men and women should be proud that they found a way around their fertility problems and medical research has given them a child. IVF is obviously not perfect, and it doesn’t always work, but when it does, parents should not have any reason to not shout it from the rooftops.
Science is finding new and safer ways to let people become mums and dads. Ultimately, I don’t think anyone should stand in the way of that.