On March 26, a team of eleven surgeons at Johns Hopkins Medical Center transplanted a new penis, scrotum, and part of the surrounding abdominal tissue onto a veteran who had lost his genitals in a combat injury.
The donated organ came from someone who had recently died and signed off on the new procedure. Similar penis transplants have been done before, but this marks the first time that the scrotum and abdominal wall were also transplanted.
It’s also the latest in a growing number of operations that, though they are not life-saving, are important for helping people feel normal in the bodies they inhabit. Face transplants, uterine transplants, gender confirmation surgeries — none of them are going to save patients’ lives per se, but all of them are life-changing for the people who elect to undergo them.
“When I first woke up [after the procedure], I felt finally more normal… [with] a level of confidence as well. …like finally I’m okay now,” the anonymous veteran who received the transplant said in a press release.
As procedures like these become more common and routine, we can only hope that some of the stigma facing people who take on non-essential surgeries goes away. For example, much of the stigma surrounding cosmetic surgeries like facelifts and other augmentative procedures has faded — largely because the surgeries themselves have become less risky and invasive. The same could be true for facial feminization procedures, still-experimental uterine transplants — and, yes, even penis transplants.
It’s not clear whether people are more comfortable with cosmetic surgery because they have become more accepting or simply because the procedures have improved to the point that people can no longer tell who has had work done.
But either way, it’s easy to imagine a future in which a similar shift has happened for people who undergo the procedures and surgeries that today are still risky, involved, and revolutionary.