Week #10 - Social and Ethical Issues (due 4/1)
In 1902, a German medical journal reported an astonishing experiment. A physician had attached the blood vessels of a patient dying of kidney failure to a pig’s kidney set up by her bedside. The patient’s immune system rejected the attachment almost immediately.
Nearly a century later, in 1997, a similar experiment took place. A 19-year old suffering from acute liver failure survived for six hours with his blood circulating outside of his body through a living liver removed from a 15-week-old, 118-pound pig. The pig had been genetically modified and bred so that her cells displayed a human protein that controlled rejection of tissue transplanted from another species. Because of this slight but key bit of added humanity, plus immunosuppressant drugs, the boy tolerated the pig liver until a human liver became available.
Pig parts as transplants may become necessary due to the shortage of human organs. Discuss (1) the morality of raising animals to use their organs as transplants, (2) the danger of xenotransplants transferring viruses from animal to humans, (3) the morality of raising human clones to supply the cloned human organs (a la “The Island” starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson).