A gift for life? 

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In the fall of 2012 nine women diagnosed with uterine factor infertility, meaning that the uterus does not exist or is malfunctioning, took part in the first attempts world-wide to transplant a uterus at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Sweden. They all received their uterus from a live donor - some of them received it from their mother, some from a relative, and one from a close friend. Four years , two of the nine recipients have had to remove the uterus because of medical complications and and five children have been born as a result of the treatment. 

On the one hand, this development of a new assisted reproductive technology (ART) presents new opportunities for involuntarily childless women to become pregnant and become a parent. On the other hand, it creates questions and challenges of arelational, societal and ethical character. This project addresses such questions and challenges by examining sociocultural aspects of the innovation from different actors’ perspectives.

An unexplored topic

Aiming to examine sociocultural aspects of uterus transplantation, this project explores the perspectives of involved actors; donors, recipients, partners and medical professionals, and those of women affected by uterine factor infertility. It investigates how such actors reason about and make sense of uterus transplantation in relation to beliefs about female embodiment, in/fertility, and bodily sharing. Specifically, it examines how such beliefs are drawn upon to construe and negotiate the meaning of kinship- and friendship bonds, risks and pregnancy. This is a topic which has never been explored before.

Developing care and policy

The project also aims to investigate how sociocultural beliefs become enacted in care practices and policies that take shape along with the development of uterus transplantation. Along with interviews with policy makers and experts – such as involved ethicists – examination of official websites and political documents will be carried out in an effort to explore care development and priority setting in advanced ARTs.

In an era where ARTs have become a ‘normal’ part of individuals’ lives across the globe, this project contributes with knowledge on how relational, societal and ethical challenges take shape in the development of a new ART. It also provides increased insight in sociocultural aspects of an invasive medical treatment which is not meant to save lives but which aims to enable pregnancy and biological parenthood. Doing so, the project brings out the complexities of how medical innovations – for which there are no established protocols and policies – are understood, renegotiated and questioned.

Project title: A gift for life? – a sociocultural exploration of live uterus transplantation between relatives and friends from the perspective of involved parties
Funder: Swedish Research Council

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