May I have your uterus? The contribution of considering complexities preceding live uterus transplantation

Medical Humanities:medhum-2020-011864 (forthcoming)

Abstract

Uterus transplantation combined with in vitro fertilisation as a treatment for infertility caused by an absence or malfunction of the uterus is advancing. About 50 transplantations have been conducted worldwide and at least 14 children have been born—9 of them by women taking part in a Swedish research project on UTx-IVF. The Swedish research protocol initially stated that the potential recipient must ‘have her own donor’ who is preferably related to the recipient. But what does it mean to ask someone for a uterus? What challenges does this question instigate? And what norms may it enact? In this article, I explore how 10 women—who have considered, and sometimes pursued, UTx-IVF—describe their experiences of searching for a donor. I aim to show how an analysis of such accounts can help us unpack some of the specific relational and gendered dimensions of UTx-IVF and by doing so enrich discussions of risks, benefits, care and support in UTx-IVF. Drawing on research in social sciences and medical humanities that has demonstrated how assisted reproductive technologies and organ donation can provoke social and familial conundrums, with respect to such topics as embodiment and identity, I present three patterns that describe different dimensions of the interviewees’ quest for a uterus donor. I discuss the negotiations that took place, how expectations unfolded and how entanglements were managed as the interviewees considered asking someone for a donation. Such an examination, I suggest, contributes to make care and support more attuned to the experiences and entanglements that UTx-IVF entails for those pursuing it. This will become increasingly important if UTx-IVF becomes part of general healthcare. To conclude, I problematise responsibilities and relational challenges in medical innovation, and in this way provide insights into how the ethical debate over UTx-IVF can broaden its scope.

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