Today I saw a picture from internet: a cute Piggy dressed like a human wearing a cap with a pair of glasses, a light bulb in the head and the waves in the background, The character said is “half human half animal “. What information does this picture want to pass to us? I visited the source of this picture and watched the video, it was talking about xenotransplantation. The video asks the question: can we do it and should we do this? It really offers me food for thought.
Xenotransplantation is the transplantation of living cells, tissues or organs from one species to another (Weale 4). It was estimated that almost 97,000 people were on the waiting list to receive organs, 13 of which died every day because of the lack of required healthy organs in the United States in 2008 (Shapiro 1). The imbalance between the organ transplant requests and the number of organs available for transplantation makes xenotransplantation an attractive alternative. Although xenotransplantation seems like a great idea, the use of animal organs for human transplants involves many risks.
First of all, the research team is injecting human stem cells into animal embryos, and they hope that these “chimera” embryos will provide answers to alleviate the shortage of transplant organs in the world, saving an incalculable number of people; but problems may be coming.
In the scientific world, they consider whether we can do this? To achieve this goal, it requires a lot of people and resources. Maybe after a long period of hard work, they can do it.
The domestic pig is an optimum donor for xenotransplantation because of their short gestation period, rapid growth, and the size of organs that closely match human organs. For many years, the main difficulty of using pig organs for transplantation was the presence of galactosyl (Gal) moieties linked to the surfaces of the cells in animal tissues; however, humans do not have GAL- linkages on the cell surfaces to produce antibodies against the Gal moieties, causing rejection of the transplanted animal organs (Groth 3). In addition to this complication, immunological issues may also occur. According to Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, staff of the NIH Cardiothoracic Surgery Research Program, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are some concerns raised about disease transmission by retroviruses through xenotransplantation such as the porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERV) infecting the human cell (Mohiuddin 70-71). There are many safety concerns for the entire population as well. It is possible that the organ recipient could be infected by an animal virus (Kortenkamp 4). The risks are not only limited by medical difficulties to the individual patient and public, but also to the ethical issues relating to the use of animals for human advancement.
There are two ethical dilemmas that are against xenotransplantation including “deontological” and “consequentialist” (Kaiser 66). The deontological perspective is that people think the consequences of xenotransplantation’s procedure and the effects on human or animals are unacceptable and the nature of such actions are unethical. The chances of organ rejection and complications occurring after transplant are extremely high, therefore the consequentialists think the transplant process is unacceptable. With that much of a disadvantage, the question remains; should we transplant organs from animals into human beings or not? Although there are many regulatory hurdles to overcome, I think xenotransplantation is the life- saving answer for the large number of patients who are on the waiting list that need an organ, and it should become an option for everyday practice.
One of the primary stakeholders in this ethical dilemma would be the patients who are going to accept organs from animals. On the one hand, animal organs are more available compared to the human organs; patients do not have to worry about dying from lack of organs for transplant. On the other hand, the risk involves a repulsion of animal organ due to genetic differences between animals and human beings and the possibility of an infection occurring after xenotransplantation is higher than transplantation of a human organ. Once the viruses from xenotransplantation are introduced into a human system, it will result in the transfer of many unknown disease for which we have no immunity and no cure. The PERV is a good example of a retrovirus for which the consequences of an infection caused by it have not yet been determined. Patients who undergo xenotransplantation are making a big gamble. With more research being done and with the improvement of biotechnological advancements, the chance of winning this gamble will improve. This is also good news for patients who made wrong choices throughout their lives such as smoking, drinking or narcotic addictions, however with xenotransplantation, they might have another chance to live and make the right choices. But will those people really take the chance to live healthier? Because there are so many animal organs available, it is possible that people will take their lives and organs for granted because they have tremendous opportunity to replace their faulty organs. Xenotransplantation might not be an option for people who have strong religious beliefs. For example, pigs are hated not only by the Muslims but also by the Jewish. The Quran prohibits the consumption of pork (Quran 2:173), but it also has been forbidden in the Bible (Deuteronomy 14:8 NIV). If they are not allowed to consume pork, how could they allow a part of pig’s organ in their body with sound beliefs? Although there are many concerns and unknown risks of xenotransplantation, it is a viable option because it will help patients more than harm them.
Second, when allogeneic transplantation becomes possible, there are many logical issues against the use of animal organs for human transplant. Animals could become more like humans and conversely, humans may become more like the animals whose organs have been implanted in them. Animals lack the ability to consent to being used for organs that are going to be harvested. If they develop some self-awareness in the process of growing organs informed by human DNA, it may be necessary for them to consent. It is difficult to imagine a pig assenting to being an organ donor once it becomes aware of its own existence. Humans are distinct from animals in many ways, but the use of animal organs with human DNA can more easily integrate into the human, including in the brain. For instance, unlike all the other apes, we walk on two legs and this frees our hands to do all kinds of things that other apes cannot do. A small change in human’s genetic makeup could lead to people reverting to a pre-evolutionary condition. While this could present advantages in human’s ability to hunt down food or understand their dogs, it would not necessarily benefit the human race intellectually. In fact, it could create an underclass for people to exploit.
At last, another primary stakeholder will be the organ donor animals. Because animals have sentiency, the ability to feel the pain and pleasure, or happy or sad experiences, they can be counted as subject of ethics and having a moral status. Animal rights supporters believed that animals should be considered the same issues as the similar interests of human. Conversely, the proponents of the animal welfare believed that humans are superior than animals and have the right to use animals to meet their needs. Beside these two points of views, the utilitarian philosophers who do not refuse the idea of using animals for saving human life but tried to reduce the quantity and increase the quality of animal use also criticized of xenotransplantation because they think it is against the concept of animal welfare. For organ donor animals, due to series of experiments, they will suffer from much pain during various steps of techniques. In addition, these animals will be raised with special diets and in supervised environment life time to reduce the possibility of transfer virus to human. To do that, animal will be keep in a completely quarantined place and be imprisoned. It is very unethical to do that because keeping animals imprisoned in a place against their natural habitat is crucial, we can consider the entire biological community. will genetic modification of organisms lead to the correct identification of species in the biological world? Or other issues that we haven’t thought of yet? the unknown impact on humans of xenotransplant technology remains unknown, doctors and scientists may not ready for a new infection which we have no cure. Finally, some people think the xenotransplant technology is another way for biotech companies to make money without concerned with the welfare of the animals.
Although there are many issues against the use of animal organs for human transplant, using animal organs would reduce the amount of time for patient to wait for a suitable organ and able to receive the organ transplant while patient is still strong and healthy. the improvement of technology is not a liner regression. As soon as scientists find a break point, the xenotransplantation will be safer and commonly used. There is a molecular genetics technique approach on xenotransplantation is to create genetically modified animals that specifically altered to be a match for an individual human patient. PERV can be prevented due to the absence of expression of the 1,3- galactosyltransferase gene. Hope in the further, the similar genetic alterations will be available to prevent another immune response and address the issue of hyperacute rejection in humans. Xenotransplantation technology will create job opportunities. There will be a huge amount of request for organ donor animals and we will need people to raise and manage these animals. Also, the cost of xenotransplant will be much affordable than human organ transplant.
Consequently, considering the cons and pros of xenotransplantation, although xenotransplantation is still not available under the current situation but is will become a life- saving technology that are not far from the future. Realistically, we as human must be acknowledged that nothing will be accomplished without animal experimentation especially on the medical advances
Weale, A. (1996). Animal-to-human transplants: The ethics of xenotransplantation. London: Nuffield council on bioethics.
Shapiro, R. S. (2008). Future issues in transplantation ethics: Ethical and legal controversies in xenotransplantation, stem cell, and cloning research. Transplantation Reviews,22(3),210-214. doi: 10.1016/j.trre.2008.04.004
Hunter, P. (2009). Xeno’s paradox. Why pig cells are better for tissue transplants than human cells. EMBO Reports, 10(6), 554–557. http://doi.org/10.1038/embor.2009.112
Groth, C. G. (2007). The potential advantages of transplanting organs from pig to man: A transplant Surgeon’s view. Indian Journal of Urology : IJU : Journal of the Urological Society of India, 23(3), 305–309. http://doi.org/10.4103/0970-1591.33729
Mohiuddin, M. M. (2007). Clinical Xenotransplantation of Organs: Why Aren’t We There Yet? PLoS Medicine, 4(3), e75. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040075
Kortenkamp, K. V., & Moore, C. F. (2001). Ecocentrism And Anthropocentrism: Moral Reasoning About Ecological Commons Dilemmas. Journal of Environmental Psychology,21(3), 261-272. doi:10.1006/jevp.2001.0205
Kaiser , M. (2004). Xenotransplantation – Ethical Considerations based on Human and Societal Perspectives. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica,45(Suppl 1). doi:10.1186/1751-0147-45- s1-s