The Ethics of Organ Transplants: The Current Debate

By Arthur L. Caplan; Daniel H. Coelho | Go to book overview
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10. Is Xenografting
Morally Wrong?

Arthur L. Caplan

It is tempting to think that a decision about whether or not it is immoral to use animals as sources for transplantable organs and tissues hinges only upon the question of whether or not it is ethical to kill them. But the ethics of xenografting involves more than an analysis of that question. And even the assessment of the morality of killing animals to obtain their parts to use in human beings is more complicated than it might at first glance appear to be.

To decide whether it is ethical to kill animals, a variety of subsidiary questions must be considered. Is it ethical to kill animals to obtain organs and tissues to save human lives or alleviate severe disability when it might not be ethical to kill them for food or sport? 1 Why are animals being considered as sources of organs and tissues—do alternative methods for obtaining replacement parts for human beings exist? What sorts of animals would have to be killed, how would they be killed, and how would they be stored, handled, and treated prior to their deaths?

If it is possible to defend the killing of animals for xenografting then questions as to the morality of subjecting human beings to the risks, both physical and psychological, associated with xenografting must also be weighed. In undertaking a xenograft on a human subject the focus of moral concern ought not to be solely on the animal that will be killed.

Even for those who eat meat or hunt, it might well seem immoral to kill animals for their parts if alternative sources of replacement parts were or might soon be available. The moral acceptability of xenografting will for many, including the prospective recipients of animal parts, be contingent on

Originally published in Transplantation Proceedings 24, no. 2 ( April 1992): 722-27. Reprinted by permission of Appleton & Lange, Inc.


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