Lucy Norton, Associate Solicitor, considers the recent news about a trial of womb transplants in the UK and the potential impact for thousands of women in the UK.
By Lucy Norton
I was listening to the radio on my way to work recently when I heard Dr Richard Smith, a consultant gynaecologist at the Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital in London, speak about the huge breakthrough in womb transplants. My immediate thought was of the help it could give to so many women, including the clients we see, who have had to have a hysterectomy for a gynaecological cancer or for other reasons. According to reports, around one in 7,000 women are born without a womb, while others lose their womb to cancer.
The great news is that doctors have been granted approval by the Health Research Authority to carry out the UK’s first 10 womb transplants. This is following the success of the procedure in Sweden where over the last 18 months 4 babies have been born to women who have had womb transplants from family or friend donors.
Here in the UK, the first 10 transplants (as part of a clinical trial supported by the charity Womb Transplant UK) will start in early 2016. On the basis that the trial is successful the first baby could be born (by caesarean section) in early 2018.
Dr Smith told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Over the years I have quite a lot of crisis with this project… but when you meet the women who have been born without a uterus, or who have had their uterus removed for one reason or another, this is really heart-rending stuff and that is what has kept us going.”
The loss of fertility, of being able to carry a baby, is devastating for many women. In medical negligence cases, for example, where there has been a delay in diagnosis of a gynaecological cancer or problems/infection caused by substandard surgery, it is especially hard when it is known that a hysterectomy could have been prevented by competent and/or earlier diagnosis or treatment.
One of my colleagues acted for a lady who required a hysterectomy due to suffering a major haemorrhage following the birth of her first child by caesarean section. It was established that the haemorrhage, and in turn the hysterectomy, were caused by negligence during the caesarean section. Our client received financial compensation for her injuries and losses but sadly would not be able to have any more children as would have been her wish.
If this trial is a success, providing a way for women to experience the feeling of new life growing inside them will be invaluable, and is also something we can consider when acting for clients who have suffered the loss of their womb due to negligence. There is clearly a long way to go but I will watch and wait with interest.