The advancement of biotechnology has always been a moral battleground because it goes hand in hand with the cruel practices of animal testing. For scientists to develop theories and proven techniques in this field of work they raise, torture and kill millions of animals each year. The end goal of animal testing is to try to prove whether a substance or procedure is suitable for humans, and now biotechnology has its sights set on engineering human organs in host animals.
The Underlying Concept of Growing Human Organs in Other Animals
A team of Japanese scientists led by Professor Hiro Nakauchi are currently working on a project which will enable them to grow human organs inside other animals in just a few years.
Employing embryonic or induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) scientists have already successfully grown rat organs in white mice, and the pancreas from a black pig in the body of a white pig. The next step, says Professor Nakauchi who is the lead scientist on this project, is to be able to grow human organs such as livers, kidneys, pancreases, and even hearts, in living pigs.
Clearly, we are now at a stage in scientific development where we are able to alter the fundamental building blocks of life and even blur the lines between species. Scientists dream of a world where we can take cells from a human and grow specific body parts in an animal host so that they are perfectly matched to the humanís body, but this is a subject matter which needs some serious attention and thought.
The Ethical Questions of Using Animals to Grow New Human Organs
Society has to address the issue of whether they are ready to face the ethical implications of pig farms which exist specifically to raise cross species animals which are part human at a cellular level. The vast majority of people ignore the plight of pigs raised in factory farms for food, but will they be so accepting when these animals are being raised for human transplant? Will there be a direct correlation between the unease of the public and the level of humanity in the pigs?
There is no doubting that once the technology has been developed and successful human transplants have taken place, demand will be huge. In the US alone 18 people die while waiting for an organ transplant every day, and itís easy to see how this technology could provide an answer. The question is, should countless numbers of animals be raised, tested on, manipulated and then killed in order for humans to be able to host spare organs in their bodies?
The legality of this type of research is already an issue for scientists. Itís illegal to make human-animal hybrids in Japan, meaning that if Professor Nakauchi is unable to overturn the law, he is looking at the US as a potential location to further his research. We should be raising the issue now of whether it is legal in the US to create animals for hosting human organs and opening the subject up for debate before it is too late.
Where Will it End?
If the vision of the biotechnology scientists is realized, we will soon be living in a world where the words “factory farm” not only apply to food production but also to organ donor programs. Pigs are selected for this research as they are known to share very similar genealogy and physical makeup, but what the scientists neglect to mention is their similar capacity for intelligence and suffering.
This is a new evolution in speciesism and we are heading towards a world where we farm genetically engineered animals in order to try and regenerate our own bodies. How many animals will suffer and die in the name of scientific progress, and will be be better off for it in the end?
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