New Uterus Transplant Surgery Could Allow Men to Get Pregnant

Friday, 20 November 2015 - 5:21PM
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Friday, 20 November 2015 - 5:21PM
New Uterus Transplant Surgery Could Allow Men to Get Pregnant
In the fifth episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, Commander Trip Tucker returns from a mission to find that he has been impregnated by an alien species. Now, with the advent of uterine transplants, we may soon be able to count male pregnancy among the many correct predictions Star Trek has made, but without the help of extraterrestrials.

Last week, the New York Times reported that a clinic in Cleveland, Ohio will soon perform the first uterus transplant in the United States. The hospital plans to perform the procedure ten times as an experiment, and decide whether they want to continue. If all goes well, then women born without uteruses or who have suffered uterine damage may soon be able to get pregnant, albeit through an invasive and risky procedure. Not only are the women exposed to the risks of surgery and potential organ rejection, but the pregnancies are considered to be "high-risk," with the fetuses exposed to anti-rejection drugs and growing inside a uterus from a dead person.

With all of these complications for cis women, is it possible that the procedure could also serve trans women, or cis men who want to become pregnant? According to Rebecca Flyckt, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Cleveland Clinic who is part of the team that plans to perform the first US uterus transplant in the next few months, it is technically possible, although unsurprisingly, it is much more difficult:
Opening quote
"Although theoretically this would be possible, it would be a huge surgical and endocrinologic undertaking and involve not just the creation of a vagina but also surgical reconstruction of the whole pelvis by someone skilled in transgender surgery," Flyckt told the Times. "After this procedure and the grafting of a donor uterus, a complex hormone regimen would be required to support a pregnancy prior to and after embryo transfer (although this could be done, as we provide similar hormone regimens to menopausal women to support a pregnancy)."
Closing quote

Most likely, if the procedure is successful with cis women, then it will eventually be used for trans women as well. However, the kinks will need to be worked out with the initial uterine transplants before surgeons can add another wrinkle:

Opening quote
"The interesting thing is that these embryos would be created using the patient's sperm (rather than eggs as in our protocol) and a partner or donor's eggs. This sperm would have had to be frozen prior to their transgender surgery, which people are doing more routinely now. I did anticipate that there would be interest in this application of uterine transplant from the Trans community; however, our protocol is limited at this time to women without a functioning uterus."
Closing quote

Serving the trans community is the most intuitive purpose of enabling male pregnancy, but it's not inconceivable that someday cis men will have the procedure as well. Several feminist science fiction novels, including Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time or Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, portray relatively utopian societies in which both men and women can have the experience of pregnancy. Since childcare is one of the greatest imbalances remaining between men and women, it's easy to imagine society being improved by both genders being able to get pregnant. It's clearly going to be a long time before men can get pregnant, if ever, but it's encouraging that it's technically possible.
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