Medical experts transplanted a heart from a genetically modified pig into a man in January 2022, marking the first time anyone has ever received one. David Bennett, the 57-year-old recipient, had no other options: He was ineligible for a human transplant, and the pig used in the experimental surgery had been bred to be an organ donor.
The donor was a one-year-old, 240-pound pig bred specifically for Bennett’s heart transplant. The pig’s genome was modified to increase the likelihood that the donation would be successful; scientists deleted four genes, including one that would prevent the heart from continuing to grow after transplantation. Scientists also added six genes to make the pig’s organ easier for human immune systems to deal with.
But the transplant raises ethical questions for some – including animal rights activists. Animal Aid, a UK-based animal rights group, issued a statement that said, “Animals have a right to live their lives, without being genetically manipulated with all the pain and trauma this entails, only to be killed and their organs harvested.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said something similar: “Animals aren’t tool sheds to be raided but complex, intelligent beings.”
Bennett, who’s so far doing fine, agreed to the surgery knowing the risks of a poor outcome. This surgery followed just months after New York doctors successfully transplanted a pig kidney into a human. Doctors are still monitoring him closely, and he’ll need to remain under observation for the foreseeable future.
What Do You Think?
There are more than 100,000 people on the national transplant waiting list, which is notoriously difficult to nab a spot on – and there’s a dire shortage of organs. Around 17 people on the waiting list die every day in the United States.
Do you think it’s moral and ethical to genetically modify pigs (or any other animals) to help alleviate the shortage? Some medical experts say no one should die waiting for an organ, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to share them with me on Twitter or on my Facebook page.