On January 2018, Pablo Ross from the University of California reported that his team was able to create pig embryos with one human cell per every 100,000 pig cells (Cookson, 2018). This work has inspired more research on this area. (Davis, 2018). These advancements have the objective to grow human organs in animals, solving the global organ donor shortage. However, with the rise of animal rights organisations, this also creates ethical concerns. Will we continue to use animal species in “xenotransplantation” technology for the salvation of our own?
New Organs, Longer Life
Let us talk about the need for organs and its numbers, just in the UK, 457 people died to wait for an organ transplant in 2016 (Johnston, 2017). In the US, on average, 13 people die to wait for a kidney transplant per day (National Kidney Foundation, 2016); also, in overall, every ten minutes one person is diagnosed with organ failure and is added to the national transplant waiting list (United Network for Organ Sharing, 2018). Although many improvements have been made to surgical care, tissue typing and immunosuppression management, organ shortage globally is one of the many challenges facing transplantation. This generates the proliferation of transplant tourism, which is people from industrialised countries travelling to emerging countries where people are offering their body parts for sale, this generates issues with potential organ trafficking and religious beliefs. All of this could be avoided with the development of this technology (Broumand and Saidi, 2017).
Developing the techniques needed to grow human organs in animals will eliminate the waiting list concern and reduce the organ trafficking globally. In where people, whenever diagnosed with an organ problem, could start a process in which their stem cells can be taken from the bone marrow and injected into a pig fetus during its gestation in the mother pig womb. (Westphal, 2003). Since the organ comes from your stem cells, this will reduce the compatibility uncertainty of the transplant thereby increasing the patient survival chances. This is not the only approach, since the efficiency of a transplant depends much on the blood type, a supermarket model to purchase organs can be developed. In this model the customer goes and selects the organ he needs according to its blood type, and with human lifespans can be increased, replacing organs each time they start failing, without the issue of these organs coming from dead people or the black market. Also, this will increase the survival chances of people involved in an accident just because the Emergency Response system can easily get spare organs available to substitute the damaged ones.
To date, growing organs in an artificial culturing environment is still complicated due to the high complexity of the organs. But since pigs share a lot of the anatomical and physiological characteristics of humans (Nagashima and Matsurani, 2016), xenotransplantation from pigs may be possible in the next few decades and will bring humanity a brighter future where people can enjoy a longer healthier life.
This research and its development will improve the quality of life of thousands of organ recipients and agrees with the utilitarian ethical theory according to Poel and Royakkers, (2011), that “The action that brings the greatest happiness for the greatest number should be chosen.
The Cruel Reality of Xenotransplantation
Scientists seek solutions for reducing the organ scarcity, and the developments in xenotransplantation hold a great promise (Animal-to-Human Transplants : the ethics of xenotransplantation, 1996). However, it is impossible to justify any suffer even the valuable benefits to humanity since harvesting human organs in animals is cruel and unethical. Even though xenotransplantation targets the improvement of human living conditions, the suffering imposed on animals should be considered. The selective animal breeding involves manipulating mammals without caring about their lives, or the way they are cruelly treated before they die (New England Anti-Vivisection Society, 2018)
To have a successful organ, hundreds of mammals have to undergo unkind surgeries, and experiments; if the analysis fails, the animals will be discarded as rubbish (Toby Köberle, Melbourne K. T., 2005). Moreover, to avoid any cross-contamination, the animals will have to live in an unnatural and stressful environment until it is time for them to die (James Meek, 2001). Animals will endure a life of isolation, stress and depression because they will be sentenced to live in a lonely cage for all their life, not be allowed to have any contact with other creatures (PETA, 2018).
Medical journals show that animal experimentation is not only a waste of lives but also of resources by trying to alter animals with unnecessary surgeries (Moneim A. Fadali, M.D, 2016) Furthermore, the medical risks for humans of these experiments are enormous. The main threat in the xenotransplantation is the possibility that the patient dies as organs do not always live up to the full life expectancy (Shima Behnam Manesh, Reza Omani Samani, Shayan Behnam Manesh, 2004).
The National Institutes of Health has noted that 95% of experiments that are shown safe and effective in animal tests fail in human trials (PETA, 2018).
Animals will die to give humans a sacrificed life because of the uncountable types of drugs needed to maintain the organ in proper conditions, living a tortuous lifestyle before they eventually die. Replacing xenotransplantation with techniques that generate more positive benefits to human beings than animal testing does as experimenting on cell cultures, simulating the organ harvesting or using human volunteers (PETA, 2018).
Scientists claim to have the right to inflict pain on animals because they supposedly lack cognitive abilities as humans. If this were true, would be acceptable experimenting on vegetative state or mental disabilities people that could benefit thousands of children? The answer is no because life is something that cannot be priced (BBC, 2014 ). So, is it ethical to save humans at the expense of the life of transgenic animals? Moreover, plenty of countries and religions do not accept this type of medical procedure making it more difficult for patients because they can suffer from discrimination, rejection (Bioethics-today, 2017) and also lack of medical treatment in certain countries that believe this is an unethical practice.
The primary concern is whether people are excessively desperate to cling to life that they would accept organs transplanted from hybrids, without realising the suffering and pain of innocent beings.
Though Xenotransplantation may reduce the recent organ scarcity as well as improve the longevity of millions of patients with organ failure and is justifiable from ethical utilitarianism in one hand, yet, the moral necessities of deontology demands an ethical debate for a rational reconsideration of the animal rights and welfare. This abuse on transgenic animal’s natural dignity, respect and right to live raises many unfair concerns calling for alternate solutions. For instance, public enlightenment on endemic exposure to toxins and infections, drug use and abuse will reduce organ failures. Furthermore, recruiting more organ donors and engaging in cellular, tissue and organ engineering will offer regeneration of failing organs instead of the violation of fundamental animal rights which is absolutely unethical.