A prominent theologian and a well-known bioethicist say they see no ethical problems with the world’s first successful pig-to-human heart transplant – and they both believe the field holds much promise for the future of medical science.
Dave Bennett, a 57-year-old Maryland man, received a heart from a genetically modified pig last week during a groundbreaking surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The procedure was so successful – the doctor said the heart was “rocking and rolling” – that the medical team removed Bennett from a machine that had been circulating his blood.
The field of animal-to-human organ transplants, called “xenotransplantation,” could help solve a worldwide shortage of human organs. According to USA Today, 100,000 Americans are on an organ waiting list.
Albert Mohler, a theologian and the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he is cheering for Bennett. Mohler, in a column for World Opinions, added that he sees no ethical problems.
“The promise of extended life and health is a moral good. How wonderful it would be for David Bennett one day to hold his grandchild,” Mohler wrote. “... There are serious moral and worldview issues to be addressed with this new procedure, but there is no categorical reason for Christians to reject it. Keeping the distinction between the pig and the man will be crucial, but we can properly thank God for this particular pig and pray for this particular man.”
Mohler listed a few ethical guardrails for xenotransplantation. Nothing, he wrote, “must be allowed” to “alter the basic human genome.”
“Big dangers would include any medical technology that would involve heritable traits (anything inherited by genetic offspring). There are dangers of viruses and genetic transfers,” he wrote. “Any transplantation from another species, known as xenotransplantation, brings moral risks and complications. There must be no xenotransplantation that would involve brains, for example, which are the physical seat of the self and its intelligence. But organs like hearts are very different.”
The Bible, Mohler added, “authorizes the use of animals for human good.”
Bioethicist Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism, also applauded the surgery. He called it an “amazing potential advance in organ transplant medicine.”
“I can’t think of any reason to oppose this approach – assuming safety and efficacy – unless one is an animal-rights believer who thinks that pigs have equal value to humans,” Smith wrote at NationalReview.com. “But they don’t. A rat is not a pig, is not a dog, is not a boy. Indeed, this field of medicine demonstrates the ethical urgency of pursuing the grim good of animal research in furthering medical advances.”
Photo courtesy: Kenneth Schipper Vera/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.