From 2001 to 2013, 1,367 American soldiers suffered some kind of genital injury while deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Some time in the next year, one of these men will receive the first penis transplant ever performed in the United States.
The procedure will be performed by surgeons at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, using an organ from a deceased donor. Within months of the transplant, doctors expect it will begin functioning normally, with its new owner able to feel sensations, urinate, and ultimately have sex with it. Just the penis is transplanted, not the testes, so if future patients become fathers, the children will be biologically their own.
The first (and only) successful penis transplant was conducted last year in South Africa—with the patient ultimately able to impregnate his girlfriend months later. In 2006, another transplant was attempted in China, but the man’s body reportedly rejected the organ. Hopkins has received permission to perform the experimental surgery on 60 men.
According to the New York Times, wartime damage to the genital area, or genitourinary injuries, are unusually psychologically difficult.
“These genitourinary injuries are not things we hear about or read about very often,” said Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, chairman of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Hopkins to the Times. “I think one would agree it is as devastating as anything that our wounded warriors suffer, for a young man to come home in his early 20s with the pelvic area completely destroyed.”
Jeffrey Kahn, a bioethicist at Hopkins, stressed that it will be necessary to obtain permission from the donors’ families once these transplants become more common.
“Once this becomes public and there’s some sense that this is successful and a good therapy, there will be all sorts of questions about whether you will do it for gender reassignment,” Kahn told the Times. “What do you say to the donor? A 23-year-old wounded in the line of duty has a very different sound than somebody who is seeking gender reassignment.”
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