Doctors at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore are preparing to provide penis transplants for 60 wounded U.S. servicemen.
If successful, the pioneering surgeries will allow the wounded warriors to perform normal urinary and sexual functions, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The round of surgeries will begin shortly. The surgeons who will perform the surgeries have been rehearsing on cadavers.
Exactly 1,367 male service members have suffered serious genital wounds in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the post-Sept. 11, 2001 era. The vast majority of those men were hit by improvised explosive devices, damaging all or part of their testicles and penises.
For these men — especially young men — the prospect of genital transplants offer obvious hope.
“When they wake up after getting hurt, they don’t care if they’re missing an arm or a leg. The first thing they do is to make sure, ‘Is my penis still intact?’,” Johns Hopkins Medicine spokeswoman Taylor Graham told the Inquirer.
Surgeons from Johns Hopkins had previously said they expect the transplant surgeries to unfold smoothly, with various organ functions being restored over a period of months, the most important of which is urinary function. (RELATED: US Soldiers Damaged In War May Soon Receive Genital Transplants)
Doctors seem fairly optimistic about regaining sexual function. They say the injured soldiers may be able to father children — provided they have functioning testicles.
The 60 planned penis transplants will not also include testes transplants.
If the experimental, complex, hours-long procedures prove to be successful, doctors could do the same thing for cancer victims and for women who seek gender reassignment surgery.
Scott Levin, a surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania, compared the complexity of penis transplants to face and hand transplants.
Levin said penis transplants are also similar to face and hand transplants in that they aren’t necessary to preserve a person’s life but they can add considerably to quality of life.
“We know you can live without hands, a face, or a penis, but your quality of life is extremely compromised,” Levin told the Inquirer. “Some would say, ‘Without them, ‘I’m not living.'”
Critics are concerned that the procedure could cause severe, deadly complications.
“If you transplant someone at 20 with a new penis, and their kidneys fail at 30, is that a success?” New York University bioethics professor Arthur Caplan asked, according to the Philadelphia newspaper.
The penises will come from the deceased. Doctors had to seek special consent, as donating a penis is much more sensitive than donating a kidney.
A spokeswoman for the United Network for Organ Sharing noted that penis donors sign special, specific forms beyond the little box on the back of drivers’ licenses.