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Bonnie Erbe: Womb transplants: what a vile concept

Published: Sunday, Jan. 21 2007 12:23 a.m. MST

Can there be no end to the vanity of having to parent one's own genetic child? Apparently not. Doctors are now angling to cash in on the fertility/virility mania by making it possible to get a womb transplant.

How vile the concept! "Let them adopt!" Marie Antoinette might say if she were still alive to watch the repro egos abounding today. Or let them hire surrogates. Last time I checked, infertility was not a life-threatening disease.

It's not that I don't comprehend the biological urge to reproduce. It's marrow-deep. Agreed. Women (and some men) are willing to undergo all manner of intrusive, invasive tests and therapies to find out which half of the couple is infertile. They gleefully drop hundreds of thousands of dollars to boost the long odds some of them face to try to conceive. They'll spend even more to answer the question whether there's a petri dish or a drug available that can cure whatever obstacle blocks their path to biological parenthood.

I also understand it's not always easy to adopt. American Caucasian infants are rarely given up for adoption. Waiting lists are years long. Children offered for adoption frequently are afflicted with biological or emotional conditions. My sister, after spending five years on a waiting list trying to adopt an American-born child, was informed the mother carried a genetic disorder of mammoth proportions. Pipeline countries for foreign adoptions dry up, place limits on or ban the practice entirely when new leaders fear the country is exporting its most important future resource.

Would-be adoptive parents who try to adopt across racial lines in the United States wade into dicey territory. The Web site BlackAmericaWeb.com reported in March 2005 that the number of black American children adopted to couples overseas was rising. But it also wrote of white Americans adopting black infants: "Black social workers ... say they are concerned over the trend in adoptions and have maintained for years that black children should be adopted and raised by black parents."

I acknowledge each and every one of those obstacles to adoption. It still seems beyond ridiculous that a doctor would spend precious research resources to "cure" a condition that is not life-threatening. We inhabit a world where incurable disease is rampant. Human overpopulation is depleting supplies of critical natural resources (oil, for one of many) and probably causing global warming. So instead of curing cancer or AIDS, we're going to spend more time and money finding a way to add human beings to an overcrowded world?

There's one other factor that must be mentioned, even if it is not a popular topic. And that is excessive animal cruelty. The Washington Post reports, "After practicing in (sic) baboons and goats, doctors in Saudi Arabia reported in 2002 that they had performed the first human uterus transplant on a 26-year-old woman whose womb had been removed six years earlier because of hemorrhaging after the birth of her first child. ... Del Priore (the Manhattan doctor promoting his planned womb transplant later this year) and his colleagues repeated the transplant in rats, pigs, rabbits and a rhesus monkey, in which they plan to try a pregnancy."

I personally oppose all testing (medical and otherwise) on animals. But I can at least understand why some humans would want to test transplanting primate hearts into humans born with defective hearts. Such tests in the past have failed. Nonetheless, heart failure is a life-and-death situation for a fully formed human adult.

Conversely, it is intolerable to contemplate destroying a human-like primate to assuage the ego of an infertile woman. Any doctor who employs such testing or woman who benefits from it clearly lacks compassion for the test animals. Let the testing be performed on those women to whom it is of tantamount import to bear a child. Or, better yet, drop the idea of transplanting wombs.


Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe@CompuServe.com.

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