Xenotransplantation is a method that involves taking the tissues, organs and other parts of the body from animals and then transplanting them into other animals, human beings included. The concept of this procedure has been sparking a lot of heated debates around the world, as many people feel uncomfortable thinking that pig parts would be transplanted into humans. Also, it has created a moral dilemma based on religious beliefs, the disposition to have an animal part in a person’s body and the psychological issues that some individuals would have to overcome before they would get used to the idea of such a procedure.
While there has not been great success with this method of organ transplantation, researchers and scientists did manage to successfully replace parts, such as skin and heart valves. In most cases, organ transplants were not really able to provide a viable solution, as the immunosuppressant drugs that were used to prevent the body from attacking a new organ have led to infections that are potentially fatal in their own right. However, the continued research on finding better ways to use animal tissues and organs in human subjects has also provided great opportunities.
To come up with a well-informed opinion whether xenotransplantation would be good for society or not, let us take a look at its pros and cons.
List of Pros of Xenotransplantation
1. It promises life-saving benefits.
Though the process of xenotransplantation has not been perfected yet, it can offer life-saving solutions to extend the life of a person who is on a human transplant list long enough. In several cases, people have died waiting for a transplant, and this could have been prevented by extending their lives by temporarily using animal organs long enough to finally be able to get transplanted with human organs.
2. It reduces opportunities on the black market for organ donations.
The sale of human organs on the black market has been a huge issue, where people from third-world countries often sell their kidneys to agents who then barter with people with enough money to buy such organs for their own use. Obviously, the problem has become worse as the trade has involved the element of exploitation. As you can see, organ donors on these markets are being paid with just very small amounts of money by the agents, who are enjoying the largest share of payments. Moreover, the brunt of the money is going to organized crime organizations that arrange for the removal and transplantation of the donated organs. Another problem with these markets is that even if you have the money for buying an organ from a willing donor, you are still taking a huge risk, as there are no regulations, no real oversight and the huge possibility that the organ may be diseased, causing your transplant to fail. With this in mind, using organs from animals, instead of those donated by humans, can end this type of trade.
3. It has the potential to open up new areas of research.
Xenotransplantation is seen to have the potential to open up new possibilities in the field of treating illnesses. As you can see, certain animals, such as crocodiles, have an amazing ability to fight off infections because of the anti-bodies they naturally have in their blood. By using this field of medical science and adapt it to human needs, we may eventually be able to put an end to deadly diseases, such as cancer.
4. It could satisfy the supply and demand of organs.
This method of organ transplantation has the potential to eliminate the huge deficit between high demand and minimal supply of organs. Some people believe that as these technology advances, so as the positive results it generates.
List of Cons of Xenotransplantation
1. It brings about moral issues.
There is a lot of people who oppose xenotransplantation because of their religious beliefs that uphold humans being a superior species to animals, thus making them stand their ground that mixing species is against God’s will. Also, they believe that using animals to supplement human life is basically exploiting them for our own needs. While it is highly accepted to use animal organs as another process in producing food, growing animals just for organ harvesting, disregarding their meat, would be a moral issue that society tends to hold.
2. It poses the risk of disease transmission.
There are diseases that animals, like pigs, contract and humans do not, sparking some concerns that xenotransplantation would introduce new diseases to people. While supporters point out that such a risk is low through organ donation, there has been no solid evidence that it would not occur.
3. It risks shorter life spans of animal organs.
Typically, animals have much shorter life spans than humans, which means that if the success rate improves for transplanting animal organs to humans, there would still be a risk of the organs wearing out or dying prematurely. This would also mean that a person would need to undergo multiple transplants over his lifetime, as the organs would be wearing out.
4. It has a very high rejection rate.
Though it was found by research that pigs are closely related to humans in terms of biology, the human body still recognizes tissues and organs from these animals as not being natural, causing it to take up arms against the new parts. This is the reason why strong anti-rejection drugs are needed when performing xenotransplantation to depress your entire immune system and make sure it does not respond to health threats as it should. Unfortunately, even with the most potent of these medications, most organ transplant procedures were not able to prove very effective. As previously mentioned, heart valves and skin are still the much easily accepted than kidneys or livers.
Xenotransplantation has definitely raised a lot of good questions that lean to both the positive and the negative sides. By weighing its pros and cons, we will be able to come together and decide whether this is a technology that we pursue as a society.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Masters Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.