Ovary Transplant Would Be “Consumerist” Medicine

by Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC on July 4, 2012

Lately, I have been pondering the increasing use of medicinal means to achieve what are essentially non “medical” ends, by which I mean, using the knowledge of medicine to promote lifestyle agendas and fulfill what I am calling “consumerist” desires. I think this story fits that pattern: Doctors are proposing that women have sections of their ovaries removed during their fecund years and later transplanted back to stave off menopause. From the Telegraph story:

A technique to remove pieces of ovary, store it for decades and then replace it with delicate surgery could effectively put a woman’s menopause ‘on ice’, doctors said. The only thing preventing them from having babies into their old age would be their physical ability to carry a pregnancy, they said. The controversial notion would allow career women peace of mind with a fertility insurance policy so they can find a partner, settle down and become financially secure before starting a family. By delaying the menopause they could also avoid the increased risk of osteoporosis and heart disease that come with the end of their fertile life but may raise the risk of breast and womb cancer.

Dr Sherman Silber, an American surgeon, has been involved in transplants for 11 women at St Luke’s Hospital in St Louis, Missouri, US, said: “A woman born today has a 50 per cent chance of living to 100. That means they are going to be spending half of their lives post-menopause. “But you could have grafts removed as a young woman and then have the first replaced as you approach menopausal age. You could then put a slice back every decade. “Some women might want to go through the menopause, but others might not.” That would mean women would not have to “watch their body clocks”, he said, and would only be physically limited by their ability to carry a baby and give birth.

Transplants carried out eight years ago are still working showing the technique is ‘robust’ and it should no longer be considered experiemental, he said. One transplant from one 38-year-old to her identical twin, has lasted seven years so far without failing. In that time the recipient has had two healthy baby boys and a baby girl, all without IVF, conceiving the last aged 45.

Menopause is a natural part of life, not a pathology. The desire to delay having children until after the usual end of fecundity — say, to fulfill career desires — is about lifestyle. In that sense, it does not supply a medical treatment. It can thus be labeled consumerist,” like cosmetic surgery to erase wrinkles.

I also don’t think that multiple surgeries to stave off menopause would be a good use of scarce medicinal resources — and for that reason alone should be discouraged. In any event, the woman should pay for the whole thing herself even if it were to ultimately receive administrative approval.

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