University of Maryland Medical Center doctors have succeeded in doing a first-of-its-kind transplant involving putting a pig's heart into a 57-year-old man, who reportedly has been doing well three days following the procedure.
CBN News said the "highly experimental surgery," which is called "xenotransplantation," was the doctors' last effort to help save the life of David Bennett, a local handyman, who is now under observation.
Bennett has been breathing on his own since Monday despite being aided by a heart-lung machine. The doctors are monitoring him closely since they are checking how his new heart is working while being in this critical phase of his recovery.
The endeavor is the result of decades of research involving animal organs for life-saving transplants, wherein an animal heart is genetically modified to function in the human body naturally. University of Maryland School of Medicine Scientific Director Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin disclosed that many will be alleviated from their "suffering" if this experiment really works.
"If this works, there will be an endless supply of these organs for patients who are suffering," Mohiuddin said.
Bennett's son revealed to The Associated Press that they knew the experiment held no guarantee for his father's survival but he was dying and hand no other option since he was not eligible for a human heart transplant. Bennett similarly confirmed this in a statement released by the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
"It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it's a shot in the dark, but it's my last choice," Bennett said.
CBN News explained that there is a shortage of donors for human organs transplant and this has driven scientists to try animal organs as an alternative. The United Network for Organ Sharing reported that there were 3,800 heart transplants in 2021 alone in the United States.
This experiment, however, is not isolated. Doctors have attempted in the past to use animal organs to save human patients such as in 1984 that involved a dying infant named Baby Fae who was transplanted with a baboon's heart. The baby survived the transplant but only lived for 21 days. This is because the human body quickly rejected the animal organ.
The Maryland surgeons then genetically modified the pig's heart to remove a sugar in its cells that is said to be responsible in causing "hyper-fast organ rejection" in the human patient once transplanted. Experimentation on a pig's heart for human transplant is said to be undertaken by several biotech companies over time. United Therapeutics' subsidiary, Revivicor, provided the pig's heart for Bennett's transplant.
While the Food and Drug Administration supervises biotech companies on such experimentation. The FDA gave permission for Bennett's transplant under emergency authorization for a "compassionate use," which is normally given when a life-threatening condition occurs with no options.
Meanwhile, Hastings Center Research Scholar Karen Maschke cautioned that such experiments would require further study and information. Her work entails a National Institutes of Health grant of developing policy recommendations and ethics on clinical trials.
"It will be crucial to share the data gathered from this transplant before extending it to more patients. Rushing into animal-to-human transplants without this information would not be advisable," Maschke said.
Biblical ethical lines
Does the Bible support this kind of research? According to Biblical creationist and apologist Ken Ham, the founder of the Creation Museum and Answers in Genesis, it's a big no.
Years ago, reports of similar research in China made headlines. Unlike the current report, however, the animal involved is a monkey. At the time, Chinese researchers were working on "human-monkey chimeras," embryos with cells from both humans and monkeys.
Ham noted that the researchers were doing this for the purpose of growing organs that can be transplanted into the bodies of people waiting for organ donors. While the idea of being able to produce organs for xenotransplants might sound good to some, it doesn't change the fact that the study doesn't respect the uniqueness of man.
"This kind of research shows a complete and utter disregard for human life on a number of levels and crosses lines I don't think should be crossed," Ham said.
Dr. Georgia Purdom, a molecular geneticist at Answers in Genesis, noted that while the researchers had "good intentions," it's important to note that according to 1 Corinthians 10:23, "Just because something is lawful, doesn't make it the right thing to do."
"God created animals according to their kind, including several different monkey kinds, but man was made separate and different because man was made in the image of God and given dominion over the animals (Genesis 1:26-28)," Dr. Purdom noted.
Ham added that such research, conducted by "many-if not most-scientists [who] refuse to recognize that humans are uniquely made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and are not animals," blurs "ethical lines." No matter the intention, the act of crossing ethical boundaries just to grow organs is not justifiable.
"The ends don't justify the means," Ham said.
He added that the scientific community should establish an ethic that recognizes the "inherent value of human life."