FRAME has serious concerns about the use of animals as transplant donors for humans (xenotransplantation) because of the conditions in which donor animals would need to be housed and the potential harm to the animal of carrying the necessary parts of the human genetic code that make xenotransplantation possible.
FRAME supports a reassessment of the current donor system to find ways to maximise the number of available human organs. It also wants to see increased funding for development of alternatives such as tissue engineering and mechanical solutions.
Xenotransplantation will increase the number of animals used for biomedical purposes with pigs and baboons are the most likely animals to be used. Non-human primates should not be used as donors, for ethical reasons, especially as the organs may only be in place for a short time, and in view of the potential for disease transmission.
The use of pigs could be considered more ethically acceptable because society already kills pigs for meat and therefore should be consistent in allowing their use for medical purposes. There are even some indications that pigs used for xenotransplantation would be better cared for than those reared for meat.
There are a number of uncertainties about the usefulness of using animal organs for transplants. It is not known how long an animal organ can survive in the human body, and it is proposed that animal organs could be used as “stop gaps” until a suitable human donor was found. If the animal organ was removed from the patient after only a few weeks because a suitable human donor was found it is not known whether the donated animal organ could be reused.
Animal donors would have to live in pathogen-free conditions, in order to prevent infection that might compromise the organs, which could cause distress and affect their physical well-being.
The effects of introducing the human decay accelerating factor (DAF) protein into the donor animal must be established. It is possible that if the donor animal’s immune system does not recognise the human DAF protein that this could cause a reduction in the efficiency of the immune system as a whole and an increase in their susceptibility to infection.
A welfare assessment of potential donor pigs for xenotransplantation should be conducted and a scheme for operating the cost/benefit analysis produced. The welfare of animals bred for xenotransplantation must be constantly monitored and not compromised for commercial reasons.