Between 1906 and 1995, approximately seventy clinical organ transplantations from animals to human beings were carried out but none of these procedures have been proven to be successful as most of the human recipients managed to survive for only a few weeks or months (World Health Organization, 1999). These circumstances have raised concerns and critiques among the opponents of xenotransplantation despite the claims by the proponents that this biomedical breakthrough may offer huge benefits to human beings. These proponents believe that xenotransplantation could alleviate the critical shortage of donor organs, save lives or improve the quality of life for sufferers of certain diseases and reduce the number of illegal trade of human organs. In contrast, the opponents present the undesirable immunological and microbiological problems as well as ethical issues associated with xenotransplantation. Henceforth the issue is raised here : Should xenotransplantation involving animals and humans be allowed?
The proponents believe that xenotransplantation could alleviate the dependence on human organs for transplantation. In 2000, only 105 donors are available for organ transplantation despite the huge number of 75 000 patients in America who waited for organ transplants (Hutchinson, 2004) and the number continued to increase to 100 000 by the end of the year 2008 (United Network for Organ Sharing, 2008). Therefore xenotransplantation is an alternative solution to replace the use of human donor organs in human transplants as various organs of any size can be supplied continuously (Cozzi & White, 1996). In this sense, all major problems arise from the endless waiting lists for human donor organs and tissues such as deterioration of health conditions of patients and fatalities can be avoided. For this reason, a large number of transgenic pigs could be farmed to provide enough supply of organs for xenotransplantation (Hutchinson, 1999).
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Besides that, xenotransplantation could save lives or improve the quality of life for sufferers of diseases by replacing the human organ functions while waiting for suitable donated human organs. This has been proven to be true as in 2002, extracorporeal perfusion of the liver of a pig with a woman was performed in which the liver of the pig was placed outside of her body with her arteries connected to the liver (Gale, 2006). Various types of serious diseases such as diabetes as well as heart and kidney diseases could also be potentially treated by xenotransplantation (World Health Organization, 2008). For instance, foetal pig pancreatic cells (islet cells) can be transplanted into insulin-dependent diabetic patient to produce enough insulin hormones (World Health Organization, 2001). Besides, Parkinsonââ‚¬â„¢s disease and stroke can also be treated by transplanting foetal pig neuronal cells into human brains to replace the lost cells.
In addition, xenotransplantation could be a solution to reduce the number of unethical and illegal human organ trades. Approximately 5-10% of the kidney transplants performed each year around the globe were contributed by organ trafficking (World Health Organization, 2007). This global issue could be reduced or even stopped if xenotransplantation is successfully practised. In this sense, the use of donor animal organs would be more preferable then the illegal trade of human organs which is considered as an international crime. As such, multitude of cases of kidnapping, selling and murder of children and women as well as the abortion of foetuses for removing their organs could be solved (Nairne, 1996).
In contrast, xenotransplantation poses undesirable risks to humans such as the occurrence of xenogeneic immune response in the body which includes the four phases of rejection as explained previously. One of those is hyperacute rejection which takes place immediately after xenotransplantation and results in various side effects such as interstitial haemorrhage, congestion and an instant loss of graft function (Halperin, 2001). To make matters worse, the high levels of immunosuppressive drug used to alleviate the rejection problems can be toxical to human body and it inactivates the immune system thus resulting in fatal infections and cancers (Hutchinson, 1999). Furthermore, this drug has to be taken by the patients throughout their lifetime.
Besides, the opponents of xenotransplantation present the possibility of microbiological problems as their argument against this issue. In this sense, pathogens may be transmitted from animal organs and blood products to human recipients (Nairne, 1996) which could infect other people and the future generation. In this context, there is a possibility of interspecies transmission of xenogeneic infectious agents to human population and the vertical transmission to offspring during gestation period (Biologic Response Modifiers Advisory Committee, 2001). Such infectious agents include Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Ebola and hauntervirus (Halperin, 2001) which could possibly mutate and endanger human recipients and potentially spread through the population. At the same time, the use of pigs in xenotransplantation could transfer about 28 types of diseases to humans (Harson, 2007).
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Finally, ethical and social policy issues may arise from xenotransplantation which include issues that relate to human beings and the donor animals. The opponents believe that the integrity of human beings may be jeopardized as xenotransplantation crosses the species barrier and the society (Healey, 2003). The human recipients may think that they have lost their identity as human beings. This would result in psychological problems to the recipients as the public acceptance of this issue may not be that welcoming. In addition, the recipientsââ‚¬â„¢ privacy as well as their close contactsââ‚¬â„¢ may be intruded as they have to undergo lifelong monitoring so as to curb any risks of infection to the public. On the other hand, the animalsââ‚¬â„¢ welfare may be ignored in which the animals may go through unbearable suffering throughout the procedure. Furthermore, the use of primates have raised controversy as they have complex behavior that resembles that of humans and they are endangered species. Moreover, current international guidelines do not adequately cover these ethical issues so far (,World Health Organization, 2001).
In conclusion, xenotransplantation involving animals and humans is a serious global issue. The proponents of this medical breakthrough believe that it could bring about huge benefits to humans whereas the opponents argue that xenotransplantation would hazard the human population. After analysing these views, it is apparent that if there are practical solutions to eliminate all the risks and problems associated with xenotransplantation, then there should be one definite answer to this issue : Xenotransplantation involving animals and humans should be allowed.