An incredible coincidence again, that our section 2 topic in Year 10 is about to be medical ethics and organ transplants. Freaky!
This was some amazing news on Monday: that human organs are going to be grown inside pigs to be used later as organ transplants. Wow!
The BBC have a short video clip to explain how human stem cells have been inserted into pig embryos to produce human-pig embryos, called chimeras. This research has been going on in the US to attempt to overcome the worldwide shortage of organs for donation.
The Guardian also reports on this story, explaining that from the outside they will look like normal pigs but one organ inside it will actually be human. There are heaps of ethical issues with this. For example what happens if the brain is human inside a pig’s body? Obviously from an RE perspective there are questions about meddling with nature and God’s creation, or whether if God gave us this intelligence and free will it is actually acceptable?
A two year old boy is currently recovering in intensive care after receiving a heart transplant. He had been living with a mechanical heart for a whole year; longer than any other known child patient in the UK.
His parents, Candace and Adrian, from Hampshire, have published a thank you note to the anonymous donor. “Thank you, little angel. In their darkest hour, as you prepared to take your last breath, your family selflessly thought of others,” they wrote, adding: “Thank you will never be enough. Your family has given our family hope. A chance of a future. A chance of life itself.”
What is a transplant? It’s a surgical operation to introduce organ or tissue from one person (the donor) to another (the recipient). It may also refer to the transfer of tissues from one part of a person’s body to another part of the same person’s body.
Way back in 1908 Alexis Carrel came up with a way of transplanting organs but most of the organs he transplanted from one animal to another failed, as organs were eventually rejected. From the 1950s onwards organ transplants gradually became more successful with the development of drugs (e.g. cortisone) to help organs be accepted in the recipient’s body. The first successful heart transplant happened in 1967. For 18 days the patient Louis lived with the heart of a 25 year old woman beating inside him. Nowadays this would be seen as a failure, but back then this was a huge breakthrough. By 1984 heart transplants had become common place around the world and even children were having heart transplants.
In the second half of the 1900s development has continued with the options for transplant surgery growing. Artificial hearts have been with us since the 1950s. Since the late 1970s it has been possible to offer some deaf people the chance to hear with the aid of cochlear implants. In 1981 the first successful heart-lung transplant was performed in Stanford.
Despite this, replacement surgery remains a highly technical and very specialised profession. Its success also depends on the availability of suitable organ donations, and in many places in the world there are not enough to meet the demand. The NHS website explains which organs people can donate as well as what the main faiths teach about organ donation.
This can raise serious ethical questions and, some fear, lead to the body being treated as a commodity.
There is much debate within Islam on whether organ donation is halal or haram.
This has lead to a shortage of organs for Muslims with them having to wait on average an extra year for an organ compared to non-Muslims. The reason for this is that of the three million Muslims in Britain most have a South Asian ethnic background: so if less Muslims of this ethnic background donate organs there’ll be less organs which match people of that ethnic background who need them. Hospitals have had to urge Muslims to donate because the shortage of organs is so severe.