Xenotransplantation: A(n animal) Life for a (human) Life?

[ By on April 27, 2016 ]

About a month ago, I read an article on mic.com called “How a Pig’s Heart in a Baboon’s Body Could Save Your Life.” The article focuses on new developments in xenotransplantation, which is the process of transferring an organ from one species to another and has been long contested. For 945 days, a pig’s heart has been keeping a baboon alive, a creature similar to humans. This is extremely promising for the future of organ donations. According to the article, for every organ donor, there are 20 people in need of organs. If xenotransplantation is possible, it could save thousands of patients waiting for organ donations. While there are still issues to work through with xenotransplantation, like initial rejection of the organ, progress is being made.
However, the question of xenotransplantation comes back to speciesism. The ethical question xenotransplantation poses is whether it is morally acceptable to kill an animal in order to save a human being. As much as the idea of living with a pig’s heart doesn’t sit well with me, and as much as I think it is preferable for animals not to die, I think the prospect of saving human life is worth sacrificing the animal’s, especially when I make the situation personal. If it came down to it, and I had the option to use an animal’s organ(s) to save a loved one’s life, I’m fairly sure I would value my loved one’s life over that of the animal, even if it may not be fair.

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6 Comments on “Xenotransplantation: A(n animal) Life for a (human) Life?”

  1. lielsterling

    Kelley Nicholson-Flynn

    [ May 03, 2016 at 9:11 pm ]

    Interestingly, it has been more than 30 years since the first animal to human transplant. (See here: http://time.com/4086900/baby-fae-history/ for example).

    Does it change things for you at all if the success rate of transplantations is low?

  2. lielsterling

    Catherine Crocker

    [ May 04, 2016 at 9:04 pm ]

    I wonder how connected xenotransplantation is to many other ethical questions regarding our relationships with animals. Is it morally acceptable to eat animals? Some might argue that we need to eat animals to survive – because we need protein and the other nutrients that meat provides. Is it morally acceptable to kill animals in scientific studies? One could argue that by killing an animal for study, we are saving a life if a treatment or cure is found.

    I like KNF’s question about whether the success rate impacts your feelings about the morality of killing animals for organs.

  3. lielsterling

    Have you considered the use of therapeutic cloning? With this method, it would possible for a single organ to be cloned and it would be a garunteed match to the person that needs the organ. It would not require the use of animals in this process. It would be more ethical this way because it would not be minimizing the life of a living animal. This method is done using the somatic cell transfer and only requires a nucleus (usual from a skin cell) and an enucleated egg. From this an organ can be grown that is a clone to the person from which the original nucleus was removed from. It would solve the problem of the rising number of people in need of an organ organism while eliminating the ethical questions of farming animals for the sole purpose of harvesting their organs.

  4. lielsterling

    I agree, it would be amazing if that would work. This is one of many contraversal subjects. Some people have actualy had transplants from other animals sucessfuly; although they aren’t full organs, just small things like heart valves. This link explains a little more.

  5. lielsterling

    Jessica Benjamin

    [ May 06, 2016 at 3:49 am ]

    Your entry was extremely thought provoking and you made a good point in favor of xenotransplantion. I think that it is very easy for us to value a loved ones life more than an animal, but when do you think our love for one another is pushing too many boundaries? In the case of a pigs heart, I think it is easy for us to disassociate ourselves from the fact that we are killing an animal, because will kill millions of pigs just for food, but what about if we began transplanting organs from primates? Do you think that it would still be ok if we were to take organs from intelligent animals like Apes? I know that chimpanzee kidneys (source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3246856/) have been transplanted to humans, so what is to stop us from taking hearts and other organs too? Our society has used animals to test products for years, do you think that transplants that kill the animals are better or worse than animal testing? Is it justifiable to kill these animals just because it can save human lives? Do we have the right to value human lives over animal lives? Also, there are many cultures that view pigs as an unclean animal, do you think these groups, and possibly animal rights activists, will try to prevent xenotransplantations? Could the pigs or any other animal used spread new diseases to humans? Do you think we would mix human genes with animals to make transgenic animals in an attempt to decrease the risk of rejection? Do you think that this would be interfering with nature or that it is justified? I agree that there are too many people dying because of a lack of organs available for transplantion and xenotransplantion has the potential to save precious lives. Our scientific community needs to find a way to help these people, but is animal transplants really the best way? Have you researched other techniques researchers are attempting in order to generate a new influx of organs?

  6. lielsterling

    Michael Sclafani

    [ May 10, 2016 at 2:26 am ]

    Hi Liel,

    Presumably these animals would be bred specifically for the purpose of organ transplants. Does the idea of raising animals in labs specifically for this purpose change the equation at all?

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