I have warned for some time that we may one day use aborted human fetuses as sources of organs.
Now, scientists have transplanted human kidneys from killed fetuses and grown them in rats. From the LiveScience story:
Researchers say they have developed a new technique that will get more kidneys to people who need transplants, but the method is sure to be controversial: The research shows that it is feasible to remove a kidney from an aborted human fetus, and implant the organ into a rat, where the kidney can grow to a larger size.
It’s possible that further work could find a way to grow kidneys large enough that they could be transplanted into a person, the researchers said, although much more research is needed to determine whether this could be done.
“Our long-term goal is to grow human organs in animals, to end the human donor shortage,” said study co-author Eugene Gu, a medical student at Duke University and the founder and CEO of Ganogen, Inc., a biotech company in Redwood City, California. [The 9 Most Interesting Transplants]
Fetal farming is definitely on its way. Here’s another example: Extract the eggs from ovaries of aborted female fetuses for use in cloning or fertility treatments–now being actively investigated.
But why go through the bother and expense of transplanting fetal organs into animals? Why not just pay women who want to abort to gestate longer into term so the transplant can be made directly after tissue typing? That has already been proposed. From an essay by bioethicist Jacob M. Appel:
Since far more women have legal abortions each year in the United States than would be required to clear organ wait-lists, if only a small percentage of those women could be persuaded to carry their fetuses to the necessary point of development for transplantation, society might realize significant public health benefits.
The government could even step into the marketplace itself to purchase fetal organs for patients on Medicare and Medicaid, ensuring that low-income individuals had equal access to such organs while keeping the “asking price” elevated…
Someday, if we are fortunate, scientific research may make possible farms of artificial “wombs” breeding fetuses for their organs — or even the “miracle” of men raising fetuses in their abdomens. That day remains far off. However, the prospect of fetal-adult organ transplantation is a much more realistic near-term possibility. A market in such organs might benefit both society and the women who choose to take advantage of it.
And heck, once cloning can be done, why not clone, gestate in a woman or in an artificial womb, and then harvest? That is also on the futuristic table.
All things become possible when we cease believing that human life matters morally simply and merely because it is human.