Pigs are not ‘spare parts’, responses to pig to human kidney transplant

Two hands are seen cleaning a pink small kidney of a pig
A genetically engineered pig kidney, photo: Joe Carrotta for NYU Langone Health/ Reuters

Animal rights representatives have pushed back against this week’s news of a pig kidney being successfully transplanted to a human, saying pigs are not a “spare parts” box. 

News of the successful pig to human kidney transplant at NYU Langone Health in New York City was hailed as a major medical breakthrough, one that could help solve the problem of organ donor shortages, researchers said.

In most countries, people are free to decide whether they want to donate their organs after they die. But even with reasons like an opportunity to help others or people are dying while waiting for an organ, many people decide not to donate organs, which causes a worldwide organ shortage.

In the US, nearly 107,000 people are presently waiting for organ transplants, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. 

Vice president of PETA US, Kathy Guillermo, said in a statement that pigs “aren’t spare parts and should never be used as such just because humans are too self-centered to donate their bodies to patients desperate for organ transplants.” 

She added presumed consent laws would “would make enough [organs] available to help people in need of a transplant.” A presumed consent law means that people are automatically organ donors, unless they specifically ask not to be. 

In France, for example, as of 2017, those not wanting to donate their organs must sign up to an official refusal register. Those not on the register are presumed to have consented to organ donation. 

Another way of exploiting animals
Legal and animal welfare expert, Peter Stevenson of Compassion in World Farming, said that while he had “huge sympathy for people awaiting vital organs for transplants”, humans had already “imposed huge suffering on pigs through factory farming”. 

He said he felt “deeply uncomfortable” about adding to that suffering by using pigs to provide transplant organs. 

Like Guillermo, he also added that a better solution would be to assume that “people consent to their organs being used for transplant after their death” unless they say they don’t want that.

For decades, researchers have been working on the possibility of using animal organs for human transplants. In the procedure in New York, the kidney came from a pig whose genes had been altered to be more suitable for humans. 

Walter Sánchez-Suárez, a veterinary scientist and animal behaviour and welfare expert, called using genetically modified pig kidneys for human transplants “another example of how sentient non-humans are systematically exploited in the US.”

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