Transgender women born as men could give birth for the first time thanks to pioneering womb transplants
- Experts convinced procedure is not only medically feasible but ethically justified
- Womb transplants initially developed for women who could not carry a child
- But experts have since been approached by a number of transgender women
- And will now consider trialling the procedure on those who were born male
British surgeons could be the first in the world to transplant a womb into a transgender woman who was born male.
Experts investigating whether the procedure is possible for those who have switched sex to female are convinced it is not only medically feasible but ethically justified.
The surgical team from Imperial College London and Oxford University have ethical approval from the NHS for 15 womb transplants on infertile women, which are expected to start in the coming weeks.
Womb transplants, which cost £50,000 per operation, were developed to allow women to carry a baby if they were born without a womb or have had it removed through illness. Roughly 15,000 women in the UK could benefit.
Trans females have a narrower pelvis than women but there would still be room to carry a child
But the team is also considering trialling the procedure on those who were born male, after they were approached by a number of transgender women. The organs would be taken from dead donors or from women who decide to become men and have their wombs removed in the process.
Writing in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the scientists said it would be perfectly possible to put a womb into a male body so that they could carry a baby to full-term. And they say it may be ‘legally and ethically impermissible’ not to consider performing the procedure.
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Ben Jones, a surgeon at Imperial and member of the Womb Transplant UK organisation which is planning the first operations this year, said a questionnaire of transgender women will help to determine ‘whether or not there is a desire to undergo this process’.
Several transgender men – those who were born women and then switched – have already given birth in the UK.
But in those circumstances it was merely a case of retaining the female reproductive organs after they transitioned, rather than having to implant female organs into a male body.
Womb transplants, which cost £50,000 per operation, were developed to allow women to carry a baby if they were born without a womb or have had it removed through illness (stock image)
However, the social complications of such transitions became clear last week when a transgender man who had given birth in such a way launched legal action demanding to be identified as their child’s father – rather than mother – on the birth certificate. The experts stress it is likely to be several years before the procedure for transgender women can happen, but they believe they can overcome key physical differences between male and female body structure to make it a success.
They write in the journal: ‘There is no overwhelming clinical argument against performing a womb transplant as part of gender reassignment surgery.’
Six months after the surgery and the womb has healed, a donated egg would be fertilised with the transgender woman’s own sperm and the embryo implanted. The baby would then be delivered by caesarean section.
Campaigners argue transgender women should have the same right to carry a child as a woman born female. But not everyone shares their view.
Feminist campaigner Julie Bindel has previously argued against the idea of motherhood for transgender women, saying: ‘This is not about transgender rights, it’s about a twisted notion as to what constitutes a “real woman”.’
Ben Jones (pictured), a surgeon at Imperial and member of the Womb Transplant UK organisation, said a questionnaire of transgender women will help to determine ‘whether or not there is a desire to undergo this process’
Legal experts warn a legislative change would be needed because under current laws surgeons could face ten years in jail if they perform the operation. Writing in the same journal, Natasha Hammond-Browning, a law lecturer at the University of Gloucestershire, said: ‘Since the announcement of the first live birth following uterine transplantation, there has been considerable interest from the trans community.
‘But embryo transfer into a person who was not born a woman is illegal under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.
‘Anyone performing it on a transgender woman could face a fine or imprisonment for up to ten years.’
Interest in the idea has grown since the first baby was born from a womb transplant in Sweden in 2014. Since then 11 more have been born in this way in Sweden, the US and Brazil. The operations in the UK are to be charitably funded but experts hope in time they will be available on the NHS.
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