Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pig-To-Human Transplantation. Do Religious Extremists Think It's An Abomination?

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh say that extreme progress has been made in animal-to-human transplantation (xenotransplantation) in the last decade and that we may be on the verge of being able to transplant genetically modified pig organs and tissues into human beings.   The reason we would want to do this would be to alleviate the extreme shortages of donor organs, ranging from corneas all the way up to things like hearts, and livers.  Using special genetic techniques, pigs can be crossbred with human genes, so that their organs would resist attacks by the human immune system.  Hearts from pigs, for examples, have already been transplanted into non-human primate test subjects and have survived for eight months.  Therefore, human trials of these organs may not be far off.

Furthermore, other pig tissues, such as pancreatic cells, are showing even more promise.  Islet cells from pigs have been used to successfully keep a diabetic monkey alive for one year without the use of conventional medication.  Other pig tissues, such as neuronal cells and blood vessels, for example, also show extreme promise for treating diseases such as Parkinsons and Cardiovascular disease respectively.

Unfortunately, many religious extremists and culture warriors of the far-right deride the notion of "Playing God" by monkeying around with human genes.  Some people may remember as far back as 2006, when ex- president George W. Bush spoke about the need to ban "human-animal hybrids" in his State of the Union address.  Far right-wingnuts like Senator Samuel Brownback, who is also an embryonic and stem cell research opponent, introduced failed legislation to do that at the federal level in 2009.  However, since then various state legislatures, including Arizona and Ohio have passed laws banning this research in their backwards, small-minded states.

The question that I want to take up is the biblical correctness, in particular, of using swine derived materials in the human body.  For example, both Jews and Muslims consider the pig to be a ritually unclean animal and their religious laws forbid them from consuming foods containing pork.  Therefore, presumably, observant individuals from these faiths would rather die that receive life-sustaining transplants from an animal that would permanently make them unclean.

However, it is not entirely clear that extremist Christians would fare much better. Brownback, for example, is a Christian, and is still opposed to this kind of research, in general, so it is not clear that someone of his persuasion could accept transplants from this source.  Furthermore, Christians often claim to follow Biblical Law, or Torah, including many parts of the Old Testament.

There are a number of items in Old Testament law which would be at odds with this kind of transplantation.  Leviticus 7:27, for example, forbids even consuming animal blood, much less having an animal organ inside one's body as a blood vessel or as a blood pump.  Bible literalists claim to believe that every word of the Bible is literally true and Leviticus 3:17 says that its laws are "forever throughout the generations", so it's not clear that Bible-believing Christians can get around this with the same facility by which they deny the need for dietary laws.  Modern Christians claim that they are under a "New Covenant" and therefore not subject to some of these Old Covenant laws.  However, when asked why homosexuality is wrong, for example, they cite Old Testament laws from the very same books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy that they say "no longer apply".

Some Christians rely on verses like Matthew 15:17-18 where Jesus says, "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these defile them."  However, a transplanted organ would not pass through the body and out of it.  One would be permanently part pig.

Jesus says that things that come from the heart make you defiled or unclean, so one wonders about the effect of having a pig's heart instead of one's original, human heart.  Naturally, these same people will probably insist that Jesus is speaking "metaphorically" about the heart and not literally.  However, that would mean that we can't take the Bible "LITERALLY", as many fundamentalists insist that they to do.  Either that, or they will have to become like Jehovah's Witnesses and refuse these medical procedures in order to keep the letter of the law as stated not only by the Old Testament, but by Jesus himself.

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