UP Catholic 02 19 2016 E Edition Page 17

H uman beings can have a visceral reaction to the thought of growing human kidneys or livers inside the bodies of pigs or cows. A participant in a recent online forum on human/ animal chimeras de- scribed it this way: Unbelievable!!! If there was any- thing that was more anti-God it is the fenetic formation of chimeras which is nothing more than Frankenstein mon- ster creation. Although the idea of a chimeric animal is indeed unusual, several factors need to be considered in evaluating the practice of growing human organs within animals. De- spite our initial hesitations, certain kinds of human/animal chimeras are likely to be justifiable and reasonable. This comes into focus when we recog- nize, for example, how thousands of patients who have received replace- ment heart valves made out of pig or cow tissues are already themselves a type of human/animal chimera. For many years, moreover, scientists have worked with chimeric mice that possess a human immune system, enabling them to study the way that HIV and other viruses are able to infect cells. We routinely use animals to address important human needs. We eat them and make clothing out of them. We keep them in zoos. Utilizing them for legitimate and important medical purposes like organ generation and transplantation should not, broadly speaking, be a cause for alarm. As another online participant noted, only half in jest: Think of it a pig provides a human heart, lungs, and liver then the rest is eaten for dinner! .Plus the pig will likely be chemical free, well-fed, and humanely treated. If a pig were in fact able to grow a human kidney in place of its own kid- ney, and if it could be used for trans- plantation, it could provide a major new source of organs in the face of the critical shortage that currently exists. Many patients today are on waiting lists for a kidney, and a significant percentage die before an organ ever becomes available. Yet significant technical and eth- ical hurdles remain before growing organs in pigs is likely to be feasible. The science is still in its infancy, and researchers have yet to figure out how to make human cells co-exist in a stable fashion with animal tissues. There are abundant concerns about the possibility of transmitting animal viruses to humans especially consid- ering how readily other viruses like avian flu have been able to jump from birds to humans. Even assuming these kinds of risks are able to be minimized, and pig/ human chimeras could be safely produced, there would still be several ethical issues to consider. One con- cern involves using stem cells from human embryos as part of the process of making pig/human chimeras. Typ- ically scientists try to generate chime- ras by adding human embryonic stem cells to animal embryos, which then frow up and develop into chimeric animals. Destroying young humans in their embryonic stages for their stem cells is gravely objectionable, so cre- ating chimeras could be ethical only if alternative, non-embryonic sources of stem cells (like adult stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells) were utilized for the procedure. The technology might also lend itself to other unethical practices, like try- ing to create a pig that could produce human sperm or eggs in its genitalia. Similarly, if human nerve cells were incorporated into a developing pig brain in such a way that the animal developed what appeared to be hu- man brain structures, some have not- ed there could be questions about the occurrence of intelligence or self-con- sciousness or other facets of human identity in the animal. Although such concerns seem farfetched, given the dearth of knowledge about the scaf- folding of consciousness, it seems reasonable to limit this kind of exper- imentation. Some scientific agencies like the National Institutes of Health have restricted the availability of re- search funds for the study of human/ animal chimeras because of these and other considerations, seeking to levy pressure so that the needed ethical discernment and discussion occurs before researchers proceed further. We tend to view modern scientific progress as a powerful engine of food for the well-being of mankind, and therefore we view most scientific research with hope. This is proper and itting, and to reinforce and reinvig- orate that hope, we should continue to insist that cutting edge biomedical research remain in active dialogue and interaction with sound ethics. The expanding study of human/ani- mal chimeras challenges us to reflect carefully on the morally appropriate use of these novel and powerful tech- nologies, so that human dignity will not be harmed, subjugated, or misap- propriated in any way. Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D. earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and did post-doctoral work at Harvard. He is a priest of the diocese of Fall River, MA, and serves as the Director of Education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. See www.ncbcenter.org www.upcatholic.org THE U.P. CATHOLIC February 19, 2016 17 Human organs from pigs - is it kosher? MAKING SENSE OUT OF BIOETHICS Father Tad Pacholczyk, Ph. D COURTESY PHOTO The St. Agnes (Iron River) Altar Society recently launched a program for generations of parishioners to get acquainted. During the monthly Altar Society meetings, a student's name from the parish's religious education program is drawn at random. The student is then awarded a token of acknowledgment. Pictured from left to right are, Mason Shamion, Joe Velie, Clara Campain, Marli Suliin (president of the Altar Society), Ethan Andler and Johnothan Swenski. Altar Society program recognizes youth

Previous Page
Next Page