Surgeons Who Transplanted Pig Kidney Into Human Accused Of Unethical Practices Researchers attached the pig’s kidney to the patient’s blood vessels. - Media Credit: Adobe. Do not use without permission.

Surgeons Transplant Pig Kidney Into A Human For The First Time, But Is It Ethical?

PETA says animals should not be used as 'warehouses for human spare parts'


3 Minutes Read

Surgeons in the US have managed to transplant a pig kidney into a human. It marks the first time the procedure has been completed without the human immune system rejecting it.

Medical professionals say this could pave the way for future transplant procedures. But animal welfare organizations argue the concept is unethical. 

The transplant

Doctors conducted the procedure at NYU Langone Health in New York City.

Previously, the human immune system has rejected similar transplants due to the presence of alpha-gal, a sugar molecule found in pig cells.

Scientists removed the molecule using gene-editing technology to combat this response.

The patient who underwent the surgery had kidney dysfunction, and had been pronounced brain dead. The individual’s family consented to the procedure before the patient was removed from life support.

Researchers attached the pig’s kidney to the patient’s blood vessels. They then maintained the organ outside of the human body for three days to observe it.

The patient’s autoimmune response did not reject the kidney. Instead, her creatinine levels – which often rise alongside kidney dysfunction – returned to normal. 

Researchers believe the development could help critically ill patients. Credit: Adobe. Do not use without permission.

Organ donor shortages

Transplant surgeon Dr. Robert Montgomery, who has had a heart transplant himself, spoke to Reuters about the procedure. 

He explained that the kidney’s function appeared ‘pretty normal’ post-procedure.

It also produced ‘the amount of urine that you would expect’ from a transplanted human organ. 

Dr. Montgomery believes the procedure could be trialed in patients with end-stage kidney failure in the coming years. The trials could offer short-term solutions for the critically ill, he said, until a human kidney becomes available. 

In the US alone, nearly 107,000 people are waiting for organ transplants, Reuters reports. This includes more than 90,000 people who are in need of a kidney. The average wait time for a kidney, on average, is three to five years.

Are animal-to-human transplants ethical?

The researchers involved in the procedure worked alongside medical ethicists, as well as ‘legal and religious experts’, before asking the family for consent, Reuters says.

But others argue that the procedure is unethical regardless of context.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), thought to be the largest animal rights organization in the world, believes the organ shortage can be solved without animal involvement. 

The charity proposes that the US update its ‘opt-in’ organ donation policy, to an ‘opt-out’ process instead. 

“From an ethical perspective, PETA has always been opposed to the use of sentient animals as warehouses for human spare parts. Animals are not spare parts,” Alka Chandna, PETA’s vice president of laboratory investigations cases, told USA Today.

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The Author

Jemima Webber

Jemima is the Head of Editorial of Plant Based News. Aside from writing about climate and animal rights issues, she studies psychology in Newcastle, Australia (where she was born).

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11 months ago

The headline here is misleading. The pig’s kidney was not transplanted into a human; it was attached via blood vessels outside of the patient’s body. At any rate, instead of performing these risky and cruel procedures, we should focus on reforming organ donation laws. Other countries that have presumed consent or mandated choice laws (which allow people to opt-out of donating their organs upon their death, if they wish) have much higher rates of donation. Animals are feeling, thinking, living beings who have a right to their own lives. They aren’t organ factories for humans.

Kim Marie
Kim Marie
11 months ago

I do not think that it is ethical to take animals’ organs from them, as it is against their will, and therefore unethical.

Paula Renee
Paula Renee
11 months ago

We need more willing humans to become organ donors, instead of stealing organs from unwilling pigs.

11 months ago

I’m vegan, but if my daughter was going to die without a transplant, and there wasn’t an organ available, I would say sacrifice the pig. Sorry folks.
There is also a huge market for humans murdered for their body parts… if a pig organ industry can save their lives by destroying that black market. I think it’s the ethical, and moral, thing to do.
We should do all we can to prevent animals from being killed for human benefit. But Life doesn’t always give us easy, binary choices. This is a hard one. But if it’s life and death, we have an obligation to save a human life.

Heather Moore
Heather Moore
11 months ago

Of course, xenotransplants are not ethical, just as it would be immoral to kill one race or gender and take their organs for another. But being an organ door is a simple and ethical solution.

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