Rich Vaughn, IFLG: Uterus Transplant Donors Offer Gift of Motherhood to Total Strangers

Uterus Transplant Donors Motivated to Give Gift of Motherhood

Pennsylvania researchers celebrated recently the birth of a healthy baby boy to a woman who received a uterus transplant from a deceased donor—only the second successful procedure and birth of its kind in the United States.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the mother, Jennifer Gobrecht, learned as a girl of 17 that she had a congenital condition called Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome, or MRKH, which left her with healthy ovaries but without a working uterus. She underwent a 10-hour transplant surgery in 2018 before giving birth to her son, Benjamin Thomas, in November 2019.

Before the advent of uterine transplant technology, which is still at an experimental stage today, there was no treatment for the condition.

Gobrecht and her husband of five years, Drew Gobrecht, had begun the process of having a child through in vitro fertilization and surrogacy when they heard about the University of Pennsylvania’s uterine transplant study. “By the time they learned of Penn’s study two years ago, they had frozen embryos that could be transferred into Jennifer if a uterus transplant was successful,” the Inquirer reports.

Penn is part of a scientific consortium including Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas and Cleveland Clinic that is committed to advancing uterine transplant technology, with the hope that uterine transplantation will one day offer another viable alternative for motherhood for the estimated 500,000 to 3 million U.S. women who suffer from Uterine Factor Infertility.

Since the first live birth from a uterine transplant six years ago, the procedure has generated controversy.

First of all, a uterus transplant is not an issue of life or death for the recipient; it is essentially elective surgery, raising the question of whether the ability to give birth justifies the surgical risk to the recipient and, if the donor is living, to the donor. The surgery is costly, about $200,000, and is not (yet) covered by insurance.

A uterus transplant also is the only kind of transplant that is designed to be temporary. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, recipients can expect to keep the transplanted organs no longer than five years, due to health risks from the powerful immunosuppressive drugs the recipient must take, and sustain no more than two births. After one or more births, the transplanted uterus is removed.

Critics of uterine transplants also have raised concerns about donor rights—for instance, sisters or mothers who might feel pressured to donate to a family member—an argument that mirrors that of opponents of assisted reproduction, who claim that surrogacy exploits women.

In fact, researchers who launched Baylor’s uterus transplant study in 2016 were astonished at the number of women who volunteered to donate to help total strangers experience the miracle of birth, the Inquirer reports:

Within two weeks, at least 200 women had called, asking how to be donors. Now there are hundreds of women from 41 states on the donor list, [said Liza Johannesson, a gynecologic surgeon and medical director of uterus transplant at Baylor]….

All but a couple of Baylor’s donations have been from live donors. In nearly all cases, the women donating their uterus did not know and never met the recipient.

As Baylor’s researchers worked through the list, vetting potential donors, they got their answer. “They all say they want to give an experience they had themselves, that it was very important to them to carry their babies,” Johannesson said. “I think that’s kind of beautiful.”

Those donors’ generosity of spirit sounds so much like what we hear from surrogates about their motivations and feelings about the experience of surrogacy. Of course, it is essential that we remain vigilant to the potential for exploitation and abuse. That concern is what motivates me in my work with the American Bar Association ART Committee, with non-profit advocacy organizations such as Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, and with ART professionals from around the world to help establish best practices, industry regulations and uniform laws to protect the interests of intended parents, donors, surrogates and, most importantly, children born via assisted reproduction. Here in the United States, where we have remained vigilant, potential surrogates are carefully vetted, screened for health, mental health and financial stability, and fully informed of all medical and legal risks. In California and most other U.S. states, surrogacy agreements are legally enforceable and ensure that surrogates are fairly compensated, not only for medical procedures and healthcare, but for the discomfort and inconvenience that comes with devoting one’s body to pregnancy for nine months.

If Governor Andrew Cuomo is successful in 2020, New York will end its three-decade surrogacy ban and put into place the country’s most robust Surrogate’s Bill of Rights in the country. Sadly, the landmark legislation was derailed last session when some leftist lawmakers and feminist activists, including Gloria Steinem, raised last-minute objections, claiming that surrogacy, as well as IVF and egg donation, demeans and exploits women. We suggest Steinem and other critics pay a visit to the Baylor or Penn transplant programs, where women are on waiting lists to give, to total strangers, a gift they know from their own experience is priceless.

 

Rich Vaughn
Richard Vaughn
rich@iflg.net

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
PEIYA WANG(王培娅)
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya received her bachelor’s degree from Beijing Technologies and Business University, where she majored in Marketing. She moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeast University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015 and received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa
LUIS SOSA
Paralegal

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes
TONI HUGES
Paralegal

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”

Miesha Cowart
MIESHA COWART
Financial Coordinator

Miesha Cowart joined IFLG as a financial specialist in 2014 following a successful career in development and business finance. Miesha previously worked for 10 years in the construction industry as a controller and for 13 years as Development Coordinator for the non-profit U.S. Fund for UNICEF. In her free time, Miesha works with “Next Generation” at her church. “They are my heartbeats!” she says of the youth in her community.

Kim
KIM DEVEREAUX
Paralegal

Kim has over 25 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager of surrogacy and egg donation cases, and is also responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn
RICHARD B. VAUGHN
Founder

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo
ELIZABETH TAMAYO
Paralegal

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien
SUNNY CHIEN
Paralegal

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

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Molly O'Brien
MOLLY O'BRIEN
Partner

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.