On Monday, the world learned of the so-far successful transplant of a pig heart into a patient in a last-ditch effort to save his life.
David Bennett, 57, received the highly experimental transplant last Friday at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Doctors gave him the genetically modified pig heart as a last-ditch effort to save his life.
According to reports, Bennett continued to recover Tuesday, four days after the experimental surgery.
His condition — heart failure and an irregular heartbeat — made him ineligible for a human heart transplant or a heart pump, doctors said.
Because of the shortage of human organs donated for transplant, scientists have been trying to figure out how to use animal organs instead.
Doctors at the medical center say the transplant shows that a heart from a genetically modified animal can function in the human body without immediate rejection.
'We're Talking About Xenotransplantation'
But Dr. R. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention – has called out the animal-to-human transplant procedure, saying "there are several very important issues of medical ethics that even the secular world acknowledges."
"We're talking about xenotransplantation. That's a word that begins with an X and it means the transplantation from one species to another," he said on his podcast. "Just even to say it, even to articulate the word invokes the fact that we're talking about something that is truly ominous even if truly promising. The ominous part comes from the fact that when you're talking about different species, you are talking about different genomes, different genetic structures."
The Baptist leader went on to acknowledge the thousands of Americans who owe their lives to a heart valve that came from a pig. Why pigs? Because there has been less human body rejection of pig parts than from any other species.
However, Mohler recognizes this transplant operation into a human chest was different, writing the pig's whole heart had been "genetically altered" to make the human body's defense system accept the new organ.
"One other big issue that even the secular world recognizes is the danger of passing on genetically-altered traits," he wrote.
Even though some people will criticize the use of animals as instruments to grow organs, in his blog Mohler points to the difference.
"The human being is not only a more developed mammal than is the pig, the human being is made in God's image," he wrote. "Thus, when you think about what some people will criticize as an instrumental view of animals, the Bible actually sanctions that instrumental view."
But he also said, "So if indeed ethical difficulties and difficulties in medical treatment are overcome so that you could have donor organs from pigs, that would be a true game-changer."
Still, Mohler says this transplant issue could escalate dramatically, citing Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, scientific director of the University of Maryland's animal to human transplant program, who said, "If this works, there will be an endless supply of these organs for patients who are suffering."
The Baptist leader warns against medical science doing anything to endanger the human genome that could be passed by the transfer of genetic or viral material.
"We need to recognize that there is no clear biblical prohibition against the idea of using animal tissues and beyond that, animal organs, but we also understand that the biblical understanding, the biblical doctrine of humanity would warn us against doing anything that would endanger the human genome or that would endanger future generations by some kind of transfer of genetic or viral material," Mohler said.
"We pray that Mr. Bennett will be well, but we also pray that our society will think very, very clearly about what is at stake, both positively and by consideration, negatively as you think about any major medical development. What we can't do is simply fall prey to the technological imperative that if it can be done, it should be done. Those are two very different questions," he concluded.
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