Bioethics Today Series: Making her whole: Ovarian tissue transplant for an infertile woman

Today we continue our series highlighting reproductive medicine blog posts written by Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD, from the Alden March Bioethics Institute at Albany Medical College for BIOETHICS TODAY.  Dr. Campo-Engelstein's main research areas include reproductive ethics (particularly contraception, oncofertility, birth, and embry and parthenote research), gender and medicine, cancer ethics, and international bioethics (especially Costa Rica).  

BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.

Making her whole: Ovarian tissue transplant for an infertile woman

Author: Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

BIOETHICS TODAY, January 23, 2014

When we think about organ transplantation, the organs that usually come to mind are the heart, or possibly the kidney, the most commonly transplanted organ.  Transplantations are generally regarded as necessary to the life of the person receiving the transplant or to physiologically improving that life: the transplant is seen as making the recipient "whole" once more.  The idea of wholeness that a transplant renders can extend beyond the physiological to the individual, the familial, and the cultural; this can be seen dramatically in the case of ovarian transplantation.  The donor ovary, and with it the potential of restored fertility and the hope of pregnancy and thus motherhood, is a surgical means to make her whole. 

Stephanie Yarber entered menopause for no apparent reason at age 14.  Her identical twin sister, Melanie Morgan, maintained her fertility and donated eggs to Yarber.  However, after at least two failed IVF cycles in her early 20s, yarber was broke.  Through her research on infertility treatment, she stumbled across Dr. Sherman Silber's work on testicular transplant and discovered that his practice focused on infertility problems in both men and women.  Thinking that a similar transplant could be possible in women, Yarber called Silber to ask if he thought an ovary transplant was "a crazy idea". Silber, who had been considering the possibility of an ovarian transplant since the testicle transplant, jumped at the opportunity to try this procedure, telling Yarber "I've been waiting for your call for 30 years".