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  1. Good Science Digest

  2. Mar 9, 2022

One Very Bad Idea, Two Victims

Photo: Getty Images

Xenotransplantation, the process of transplanting an animal organ into a human body, is a tragic excuse for medical care.

David Bennett Sr.’s death on March 8 revealed that his Jan. 10 pig heart transplant operation actually resulted in two victims: first the pig, then Bennett himself, who probably survived just long enough to drive a round of investment into companies that intend to profit from breeding and killing animals for spare parts. 

Bennett was denied a transplantable human heart, in part because of an organ shortage that could be improved through myriad ways: improving donor-recipient matching, improving the diagnosis and management of organ rejection, and developing technologies to extend organ viability. 

Further, research methods such as a heart-on-a-chip, which effectively models human heart tissue, can improve the drug discovery and testing process so that we can get effective and safe medications to patients sooner.

Preventive measures can also reduce heart disease and the need for transplants in the first place. Our medical system is overburdened with damaged hearts—the vast majority damaged from entirely preventable causes: smoking, chicken wings, and butter. Decreasing the consumption of foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol and increasing healthful, plant-based foods could prevent, delay, or even reverse heart disease for millions of patients.

The establishment of animal organ farms raises the same issues that already plague animal agriculture: terrible living conditions, the spread of disease, antibiotic resistance, toxic run-off, and CO2 emissions. 

“Xenotransplantation wastes time, money, and lives,” says Janine McCarthy, MPH, medical research specialist at the Physicians Committee. “We must develop plausible strategies for addressing heart disease rather than pursuing the dystopian use of pig hearts for xenotransplantation.”

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