"World's first" is a phrase that we hear often in healthcare. There was an article in New York (Wheldon, 2006) about surgeons getting the go ahead to transplant the womb of a brain-dead donor into a living woman. The initial research and development was done on animals and now they are interviewing potential recipients for a human womb. The surgeon, Dr Giuseppe Del Priore of New York Downtown Hospital will continue his research to observe pregnancies in transplanted wombs in monkeys. The logic behind transplanting the female reproductive organs is to help patients who are infertile; however, they are moving on to implanting in humans, even before pregnancies are trialed.
What are your feelings about this? Where do the lines get drawn? How would it be different if you were that infertile woman with a new hope?
Reference Wheldon, Julie (2006). New York doctor given go-ahead for world's first womb transplant. Retrieved December 4, 2013 from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-415307/New-York-doctor-given-ahead-worlds-womb-transplant.html.
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The twenty first century abounds with "world's firsts" in medicine, technology, space and so on and it seems that, as mankind conquers one element, he quickly moves on to another. The confidence of the professionals, especially in medicine is phenomenal as doctors have every faith in themselves and their ability to change lives. Many people have been saved by proactive doctors who are not afraid to change their aspirations into reality. Unfortunately, for all the success stories, there are sometimes tragic consequences, especially with "world's firsts." Before becoming a "world's first," there must have been many failures and, in medicine, as researchers learn from these failures, someone or something is paying the price. Research on animals, itself contentious, does reveal many of the possible reasons for failure, thereby saving potential human loss. However, people are becoming more impatient in the need to find solutions and also to ensure their status as the "world's first" and so, tests and research is perhaps cut short or considered unnecessary. "World's second" just doesn't hold the same allure!
Research in medicine used to be about "cures." In the modern era however, it is also about more transitory things and "wants" rather than "needs." Nobody would judge a couple desperate for a child if it is feasible to help them and what a wonderful opportunity and gift of life. However, it is also unfair to offer hope to a couple when the costs are prohibitive - ie the loss of life! Any surgery has complications and surgery to implant a womb is groundbreaking. However, the very fact that there are so few findings - except in mice from 2002- and none in primates that show that a successful pregnancy can result, it seems that the medical professionals are more concerned about their "world's first" transplant than they are about providing a childless couple with a child. Couples are also enticed by the chance to be part of the phenomena and overlook the emotional turmoil and potential for disaster. There is also an element of "children to order" as doctors would remove the womb after the birth of the required number of children.
Doctors who see the importance of the "bigger picture" do not necessarily stop to consider the life-changing consequences of any personal failure as the effects will be on someone else and not themselves. They are more likely to take it as part of a learning curve so that they succeed next time, still hopeful that they make it there before anyone else. It seems that the boundaries are always shifting and previously held values are adapted to allow for more possibilities but at much greater cost.
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