The idea of using animal organs for transplants in human starts is one of the latest medical procedures that is expected to change the fate of medicine. Xenotransplantation is the transplantation of living organs, tissue or even cells of a non-human organism to human beings. Currently, a lot of research is being carried out by many institutes to establish the suitability of specific animal organs in this process. Now, there is a breakthrough using organs from genetically modified pigs to perform organ transplant on human beings. But the general ethics in this activity is what comes to question1. Therefore, this paper discusses the ethics and the morals of using this procedure. In addition, the reaction of people, if they realize that they are surviving with a kidney from a swine, is an issue that requires attention.
Over the years, medical researchers have tried to come up with numerous technique that will guarantee an increase in the lifespan of the human race. The life expectancy of human beings has increased tremendously over the past decades. Among these techniques is organ transplant. The early history of organ transplants can be traced back to the 3rd century where it was reported that saints Damian and Cosmas of the Roman Catholic operated Justinian, Roman deacon. The procedure involved replacing a cancerous leg of the deacon with that of a deceased Ethiopian. This was followed various transplant of different organs. But it was until 1900 when the idea became accepted. The most famous physician who specialized in organ transplant was Alexis Carrel who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1912. But the demand for more organs was what triggered the need for more transplants. The number of organs donors cannot satisfy the demand for organs that is why xenotransplantation was introduced. As early as 1954 research on this procedure had kicked off2.
According to Doctor Joseph Tector of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, “there is so much desperation among people on transplant lists, and 20 a day are dying as they wait.”3 Indeed there is a high demand for organs in the various hospitals in the world today. Even the hospitals with the state of the art equipment fail to meet the demand for organ transplants. They may offer the best surgical operations but without the organs, are as good as nothing. Meeting the demand of the people that are dying daily in the hospitals as a result of damaged organs has become hard. Therefore there is need to improve on this. There are organs that when taken from a living person he can still survive with the left parts4. These transplants include the kidney and the liver. But there are cases where organs such as the lungs that a living human being cannot survive if they donate. In this case, the idea of using organs from animals can bridge the gap and fill the hole left in this situation.
Up to now, it is possible for doctors to save the life of a human being with a damaged organs without necessarily using organs from other human beings. This development means that one will not have to go through a tough time looking for an organ donor or wait for a coincident to occur; a coincidence of waiting for a dying person to donate the organ. Animals’ organs can be used in this case where genetically modified pigs have organs that match the DNA of human beings. “It is an elegant tour de force of genetic engineering, so my hat is off to them,” said Dr. Joseph5. However, he is adamant that there is still a lot to be done for this technique to be implemented fully6. The first step towards achieving this is convincing patients to accept an organ from the animals. When a doctor approaches a patient in need of an organ and tells him or her that there is an organ from a swine, does he expect the patient to react in a normal way? Many are still in denial that organs from animals can function properly in human beings. If the doctor can manage to convince the patient to accept the transplants the ethical baggage would be handled.
Evidently, the ethical issue of the idea of xenotransplantation is remaining the major hurdle. This reception is similar to the idea of organ transplant during the early stages of its development7. It was unethical for someone to use any organ or a dead person. Before performing these producers, there are life or death decisions that have to be made involving the donor, the recipient, and the doctors. Some of this decisions more often are questionable because they do not regard the safety of the people under the procedure. The issue of organ rejection is the main concern during this early days. Some organs were not compatible with other raising the questions to the people if the procedures were meant to save lives or risk safety of people. Whoever, this issue was resolved with the improved technology.
The similar issue is faced when it comes to organ transplants involving animal organs. Pigs are the first choice because their physiology is similar to that of human beings as compared to that of chimpanzees or baboons which have close ancestry to human beings. But using these animals have more ethical concerns. However, using the organs of the pigs with genetic changes have often failed in the chimpanzees. After weeks of performing the transplants procedures, there were intense rejections of the organs as witnessed in the chimps even after using immune-suppressing drugs to prevent rejection8. These failed procedures raised ethical questions on whether the doctors paid attention to the lives of the patients by performing such procedures.
Also, there were the ethical issues about risking the lives of animals by using the chimpanzees and the baboons as the test subjects. In the midst of these medical research the issue of animal rights has become the center stage of discussion. Using animals to perform scientific tests in the laboratory raises no ethical questions when it involves using small animals such as rabbits or rats9. But there was a lot of questions asked when the researchers decided to use complex animals such as chimpanzees. For this reasons, the transplant of organs from this animals received a backlash upon reception by the public. These procedures were regarded as an unfair treatment for these animals by environmental conservationists. These animals have close ancestry to human beings, and the natural reaction of the people would be negative.
The last ethical issue surrounding this topic of using animals’ organs is cloning. The currently used animals for xenotransplantation procedure are pigs. These are not just ordinary pigs, but genetically modified pigs called GalSafe pigs by the scientist who developed them. Revivicor (a Therapeutics company that produces Dolly the cloned ship) is responsible for the production of the genetically modified pigs. A similar technology was deployed when making of Laika the first cloned pig in China. Using CRISPR-Cas9 technology for genome editing technology, this was the first step towards a successful procedure of using pigs as organ donors10. However, there are very many skepticisms as far as cloning is concerned. This technology may have been the greatest breakthrough in the history of human beings but has not well been received by the people. Many are questioning this technology based or religious issue or problems in the society. Many religious believers are questioning this because it disputes the fact that God is the sole creator11. The social issue is that if the same technology is applied to human beings, it would result to an issue of identity crisis. When it comes to using the cloned organs for transplants, not many will accept this idea for many cloned animals have not survived for a long time. The failure of the cloned organs to function in human beings will raise the safety concerns of such procedures.
From the introductions of organ donation into medicine, it has seen a lot of lives being saved, and there have been various improvements ever since the first procedure was successful. Various efforts are being made to improve on the current state of this scientific technology to meet the demand. A lot of people are in need of organs to survive. However, this success has also witnessed a lot of ethical issues among people. The act of transplanting organs from animals to human beings raises concerns especially when it involves animals such as chimps which have a close ancestry with human beings12. Many call this as luck of morals jeopardizing the lives of this animals to satisfy the needs of research. The next concern is the issue of using organs of cloned animals. In conclusion, organ donation is a benefit as far as improving the lifespan of human beings, but for it to be implemented it is necessary that the ethical issues surrounding it are addressed 13. This act will clear the doubts of many which act ass the major hurdle to the success.