Imagine you need a new heart. A doctor takes some skin cells and then transforms them into pluripotent stem cells.
The cells are injected into a pig embryo. The piglet is raised for six months, euthanized, and the heart transplanted into your chest with little concern of tissue rejection because your own DNA would be in the organ.
If such a procedure could be perfected–and scientists are working on it–it would end the organ shortage.
Other than potential safety issues–some serious, for example, a porcine virus crossing the species barrier –what are the concerns?
Some say: “We would be killing the animals!” From an article exploring the ethical concerns in the Journal of Medical Ethics (abstract only):
One possible response to this argument is that it seems strange to object to using pigs to save people’s lives when it is generally regarded as acceptable to eat them.
Eating meat is not necessary for survival, while working organs are: as such, it actually seems more reasonable for pigs to be used to grow life-saving organs than to provide the luxury of meat.
However, any such argument is predicated on the assumption that it is ethical to eat animals in the first place.
Most people won’t care about that argument. The key would be to not allow animal rights terrorist-types to impede the necessary research.
But the pigs might not have piggy lives!
Another potential objection is that pigs can be farmed in an ethical way, enjoying relatively happy lives before being used to produce meat, while chimaera animals would have relatively short lives in order to meet the supply for organs and would also have to be kept in very sterile conditions, with potential adverse effects on their well-being.
So what? They would never know another kind of life.
And here’s a final animal welfare objection mentioned by the authors:
Finally, it should also be remembered that hundreds or perhaps thousands of animals will also need to be sacrificed as part of ongoing research into chimaera organs. While this is not very many in comparison with the number that will be sacrificed if the technique becomes widely used in humans, it should still be asked whether it is legitimate to use animals for this type of research.
Animal research is essential to improving human wellbeing. Given the many millions of animals are sacrificed in the “grim good” of animal research every year, I can’t see why this potential objection should slow us down in the least.
The authors argue for pursuing all forms of increasing organ availability, including animal chimera organs. Some proposals involve unethical (to me) proposals involving humans, but we need not get into that here.
If the significant safety issues involving the use of animal organs can be overcome, I say: “Full speed ahead!”