This is huge: A U.S. clinic has performed the country’s first uterus transplant

Through the miracles of modern medicine, people without functioning uteruses have had other options for having biological children — namely, surrogate pregnancies — for decades. But one U.S. clinic has just changed the game: On Thursday, the Cleveland Clinic successfully performed the country’s first uterus transplant.

The future of U.S. uterus transplants

Unlike many other organ transplants, uterus transplants aren’t directly tied to life/death scenarios, but they serve an important function in improving the quality of life and also giving people more options when it comes to how and when they wish to get pregnant. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this particular patient was screened because she had “Uterine Factor Infertility (UFI), an irreversible condition effecting 3 percent to 5 percent of women worldwide”; at least at this clinic, UFI will likely remain the sole reason they perform uterus transplants.

The history of uterus transplants

Other countries have performed uterus transplants before, but it was only in 2014 that the first successful pregnancy via a transplanted uterus was completed, in Sweden. However, that transplant was intended to be temporary, lasting one or two pregnancies only. The Cleveland Clinic hasn’t followed up with any information as to whether this uterus transplant is for a similar case.

Despite its relatively uncharted territory, this development is a huge step forward in larger conversations about reproductive freedom. One of the first uterus transplants was performed on Lili Elbe, the transgender woman whose life was recently the focus of the film The Danish Girl; her story exemplifies another aspect of uterus transplants, which is to help patients of all genders adapt, in however way they want, to their gender of choice. (Both in removing and receiving a uterus.)

The rise of in-vitro fertilization in the ’70s and ’80s overshadowed uterus transplants as the preferred pregnancy method for people who were infertile or unable to get pregnant, but this remains a costly, oftentimes repetitive procedure. While uterus transplants are surely expensive, as well as physically and emotionally taxing, like all transplants, they provide a sense of permanence, which when applied to the body doubles as normalcy. We’ll await to see what happens with the Cleveland Clinic case — as well what happens with the U.S.’s first penis transplants.