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A small piglet in the farm. group of mammal waiting feed. swine in the stall..jpg

What Is Xenotransplantation?


Historically, xenotransplant, or the transplantation of organs from other species to humans, has failed due to incompatibility and rejection. Recently, an American patient became the first to receive a genetically modified pig heart transplant. The donor pig had undergone deletion of certain pig genes and addition of human genes to make its heart less likely to be recognized as foreign by the human recipient. 

Time will tell how well this technology will work, but several moral questions arise:

  1. Where are the human genes coming from that are inserted? Is aborted human fetal tissue being used? - At the moment, it appears it is. 
  2. What is the quality of life of the human-pig chimera that has been created solely for eventual sacrifice for its organs?
  3. What risk will the transplant recipient face of becoming ill from endogenous pig viruses, especially as he/she will need anti-rejection drugs and be immunodeficient for the rest of his or her life?

If the human genes being inserted are coming from an ethical source, AND the chimera is as comfortable as any other lab animal, AND animal viruses are not going to be an issue (a lot to assume) this new technology MAY be acceptable. Certainly, it would be preferable to the murder of vulnerable people (as with donation after “brain death” or “circulatory death”) who are actually alive at the time of their organ harvests.

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