As someone who recently tried to persuade Massachusetts General Hospital to take one of my kidneys — we’ll get to that — I noted with interest reports last week that a pig kidney has been successfully transplanted into a human.
The pig-to-human factor isn’t even the most eye-opening aspect of this operation. Since people and pigs were not designed — by nature, by God, your pick — to swap organs, the donor pig was genetically engineered to make its kidney a better fit. The experiment worked. The transplanted kidney functioned for 54 hours.
And because this cutting-edge procedure couldn’t be tried with one of the 90,000 people currently awaiting a kidney on the transplant list — including my Boston cousin, who was hoping for mine — the kidney was transplanted into a brain-dead patient, which I didn’t even know was a thing.
The deceased person’s family gave consent, an act of astounding generosity that shouldn’t be overlooked in our what-about-MY-rights? age. Picture it: Your relative dies and is being kept alive on a ventilator.
A gaggle of scientists rushes over and asks, “Umm, would you mind if we stick a pig kidney into your loved one to see what happens?” And you say “Go ahead.” That family deserves a medal.
I’m jumping on this story, hoping to get ahead of the chorus of complaint. This medical triumph pokes several hot-buttons for outrage: 1) genetic modification 2) experimentation on animals 3) cross-species medical procedures 4) use of dead people to advance science.
I’d better leap in with the decent, humane perspective before all the vegans, misanthropes and ministers get into the game.
While practical application is still long off, this is a marvelous development. There were some 40,000 kidney transplants in the United States last year, but there could have been many more if only more kidneys were available. Half a million Americans, including my cousin, must undergo dialysis to stay alive, a time-consuming, unpleasant procedure. And dangerous: A dozen such patients die every day.
To continue reading, click here.