Xenotransplantation - An Ethical Alternative to Donor Organ Transplantation?

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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.

Ethical Issues

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:
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(1) those related to transplantation in general, and

(2) the issue of animal sacrifice to obtain organs.

With the evolution of transplantation many ethical issues have been identified. While most people are now

satisfied with the definition of death from cerebral causes ("brain death"), there still is great ethical uncertainty in

such areas as: ownership of cadaver organs; criteria for allocation of organs to those on waiting lists; surgery on

health people as live donors of organs; abortion (and, allegedly, even abduction and murder of children for their

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