The human organ shortage is one of the great bioethical dilemmas of our time. Expanding the organ supply is a matter of life and death. But some proposed remedies — such as harvesting vital organs from the cognitively disabled as a form of euthanasia — are monstrous and would break every solemn promise made to the public about transplant medicine.
But there are ethical proposals too, such as making organs from one’s own stem cells. A big advance in this regard was recently achieved with pigs. From the ScienceNews story:
For the first time, researchers have created lungs in the lab and successfully transplanted them into pigs.
These bioengineered lungs . . . developed healthy blood vessels that allowed pigs to live for several weeks after surgery without medical complications. That’s a significant improvement from previous efforts: Lab-grown lungs implanted in rodents failed within hours, before the lungs could develop the complex blood vessel network necessary for long-term survival.
If the new procedure can be adapted for humans, with bioengineered lungs grown from a patient’s own cells, that could reduce the risk of organ rejection and slash wait times for organ transplants. In the United States, where about 1,500 people currently are on a waiting list for a lung transplant, the average wait is a few months.
The same kind of research efforts are being made with kidneys, hearts, and other organs. It’s still a long road ahead, but if this research proceeds to clinical practice, countless lives could be saved without compromising transplant ethics.
During the stem-cell controversy, President George W. Bush told us to never underestimate the imagination and skill of scientists. This experiment demonstrates his point precisely.
To which I would add, contrary to the lies of the animal-rights movement, never doubt the importance and efficacy of animal experiments in developing medicines and new life-saving techniques. This “grim good” research could not be accomplished on computers or cell lines. It requires living research subjects.
That leaves three choices: Sacrifice humans in the research; use pigs and other animals; or, don’t do the research.
The first choice would be unthinkable and the third would be derelict. I choose door No. 2.