Brute Ethics





Animal Ethics Encyclopedia

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Transplanting the parts of one species, such as cells, tissues or organs, to another species. Transplants are often from animals to humans, for example replacing someone's diseased heart with a healthy heart from a pig. The word xenotransplantation is derived from the Greek word xenos, meaning other, strange or foreign.

Xenotransplantation benefits human health care. People with poorly functioning hearts, livers and other organs gain by replacing their old organ with a healthy one from an animal. Xenotransplantation is advantageous and profitable for industries. For example, xenotransplantation can improve agricultural crops by combining plants with genetic factors to make them more resistant to diseases and the pharmaceutical industry can develop drugs to assist a body's acceptance of a transplant.

From the perspective of organ transplants, the chronic shortage of organs from human donors makes transplants from animals an attractive proposition for some people. Alternatives to animal organs cannot satisfy the demand for transplants. Trying to increase the number of human donors has had limited success; patients die while waiting for a suitable human organ. There is also a dark trade in human parts from developing countries to rich developed countries. Manufacturing completely reliable mechanical organs is in its infancy. Yet there is an abundance of efficient animal parts.

On ethical grounds the dealing in human body parts is sometimes dubious. A hidden trade exists in human parts from developing countries to rich developed countries. Non-human primates are less objectionable to many people but need to be bred especially for the purpose. People are less likely to object to animal parts from pigs. Pigs are a good source as porcine organs are the right size for humans and pig husbandry is easy. People may think to themselves that the pigs will die anyway as part of the human food chain. In fact pigs are bred especially for part as are primates - used once and thrown away.


  • Animal Experimentation
  • More animals than pigs are involved in xenotransplantation. Surgeons carry out experiments on animals to perfect the process of transferring pig organs into non-human primates.

  • Patients at Risk
  • Organs can harbour virulent viruses not found in humans. When an infected organ is transplanted the human recipient can be infected and die.

  • Spread of Disease
  • When a human is infected as above (Patients at Risk), the virus may somehow pass into the human population and infect people far and wide. Examples are AIDS and Ebola. Few of these kinds of viral infection (called xenozoonosis) can be treated.

  • Rich Only Benefit
  • Xenotransplantation is for the rich or more broadly for First World people. People who cannot pay for expensive transplants must go without them.

  • Yuk!
  • People with animal transplants may be disturbed and tormented by having become 'part animal'. They may feel they are not wholly themselves.

  • Grow Your Own
  • Alternative approaches to xenotransplantation might be, for instance, to develop artificial organs and tissues or to advance stem cell research so that new organs are grown from patients' own body cells. This research is slow and it also involves experimenting on animals.

    © 2004 Roger Panaman All rights reserved