Xenotransplantation - An Ethical Alternative to Donor Organ
Xenotransplantation is a term used to refer to the transplantation of organs between different species.
Transplantation within human species (allotransplantation) has established an acceptable clinical role, especially
involving organs such as the kidney, heart, bone marrow and liver. In fact, its success has caused demand to far
outstrip supply. This is primarily due to shortage of available human donor organs. Many initiatives have been
introduced such as publicity campaigns, distribution of donor cards, appointment of transplant co-ordinators,
implementation of protocols in hospitals, and action programs for public and professionals. However, these have not
been sufficient to increase the donor supply significantly. In 1993 in the United States alone, there were about 32,000
patients waiting for different organs . Most of these would either die or be severely incapacitated in the absence of a
transplant. As the programs become more successful, more recipients are identified, but the prospective increase in
donors has lagged behind. The median waiting period for a number of various types of donor organs has also
increased significantly over the last few years and continues to be a problem.
The search for suitable alternatives to donor organs has led to the intervention of xenotransplantation. Unlike
allotransplantation, xenotransplantation is not an acceptable clinical procedure as yet and there are major scientific
barriers in controlling the body's ability to reject organs from different species. Ethical issues relating to
xenotransplantation, therefore, involve not only whether xenotransplantation should be done, but whether any
research should be carried out in this area if the perfected procedure would never be accepted on ethical grounds.
The primary ethical issues relating to xenotransplantation comprise: