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What do you believe about xenotransplantation

Introduction

The development of the technique of organ transplantation was one of the major medical advances of the twentieth century. Allotransplantation is now a highly successfully way of treating patients for a wide variety of life-threatening medical conditions, but crucially is dependent on an adequate supply of cadaveric human organs. Because of the enormous success of organ transplantation, the ever-increasing demand for human organs means that there are simply not enough to go around. This means that there are currently long waiting lists for urgent medical procedures.

One solution to the problem of organ shortages is xenotransplantation. Xenotransplantation can be defined as the transplantation of animal cells, tissues or organs into human recipients for therapeutic purposes (Melo et al., 2001). The purpose of this essay is to thoroughly evaluate this technique. I will begin by describing how xenotransplantation can be carried out, and discuss the evidence to suggest that such a procedure might be technically feasible in the near future. I will then consider the various advantages and disadvantages of the technique, before concluding the review with my personal opinions on the merits of xenotransplantation.

Although I believe xenotransplantation is feasible on scientific grounds, I have serious doubts about the potential for the technique to be successful given the numerous ethical issues that are associated with it. Unless the procedure is extremely successful in the clinic, I doubt whether the idea of living with an animal organ will ever be socially acceptable. For others the procedure will be unacceptable on religious grounds, while others will not tolerate the breeding of animals purely for their organs. I suspect the reaction of the media to the technique may be critical in determining how successful it could be. The recent debacle over the introduction of genetically-modified foods in the UK is one example of a promising scientific development hijacked by sceptical media coverage misinforming the general public; despite positive public opinion at present (Rios et al., 2004), a similar media reaction to the first trials of xenotransplantation would again be disastrous.

Overall, I would strongly encourage further research into the possibility of xenotransplantation with the hope of initiating clinical trials in the coming years. Although the technique does hold considerable promise to overcome the shortage of cadaveric organs, I am doubtful that xenotransplantation will ever be able to realise its medical potential due to the many ethical issues raised by its implementation.

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