Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, philosophy and health care

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

No Pain, All Gain: The Case for Farming Organs in Brainless Humans

Ruth Stirton and David Lawrence
BMJ Blogs
Originally posted June 10, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

A significant challenge to this practice is that it is probably unethical to use an animal in this way for the benefit of humans. Pigs in particular have a relatively high level of sentience and consciousness, which should not be dismissed lightly.  Some would argue that animals with certain levels of sentience and consciousness – perhaps those capable of understanding what is happening to them – have moral worth and are entitled to respect and protection, and to be treated with dignity.  It is inappropriate to simply use them for the benefit of humanity.  Arguably, the level of protection ought to correlate to the level of understanding (or personhood), and thus the pig deserves a greater level of protection than the sea cucumber.  The problem here is that the sea cucumber is not sufficiently similar to the human to be of use to us when we’re thinking about organs for transplantation purposes.  The useful animals are those closest to us, which are by definition those animals with more complex brains and neural networks, and which consequently attract higher moral value.

The moral objection to using animals in this way arises because of their levels of cognition.  This moral objection would disappear if we could prevent the animals ever developing the capacity for consciousness: they would never become entities capable of being harmed.  If we were able to genetically engineer a brainless pig, leaving only the minimal neural circuits necessary to maintain heart and lung function,  it could act as organic vessel for growing organs for transplantation.  The objection based on the use of a conscious animal disappears, since this entity – it’s not clear the extent to which is it possible to call it an animal – would have no consciousness.

The blog post is here.
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