Animal-to-Man Organ Transplants Deemed OK Under Right Conditions

Vatican Outlines Position in Special Document

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 26, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Organ transplants from animals to man are morally acceptable if certain conditions are respected, the Vatican announced today.



Such transplants in fact reflect one of medicine´s most promising discoveries, said the Pontifical Academy for Life, which presented a special document to the press in order to explain the Church´s view.

The academy´s work was commissioned by the Vatican State Secretariat in response to a request from the European Council on the ethical character of so-called xenotransplants. The text, entitled "The Prospect of Xenotransplants: Scientific Aspects and Ethical Considerations," is currently available only in Italian.

Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, explained that xenotransplants be adopted ethically as "final surgical therapy," only after very strict conditions are guaranteed.

One such condition is that experimentation would have to be done on animals first, and only later applied to persons in desperate need.

"Modern transplant techniques could save the lives of millions of human beings if there were organs available for being transplanted," Bishop Sgreccia said.

"Despite appeals for donations, which come from different areas and which have resulted in an increase in the number of donors, there is a constant lack of human organs for transplants to patients," he noted.

"Because of this, the scientific community is highly committed to the prospect of xenotransplants, that is, to the possibility of transplanting organs, tissues and cells from animals to man," the bishop said at the Vatican Press Office.

The document "has been prepared by an international working group, guided by the Pontifical Academy for Life, with the presence of unquestionably famous specialists, of proven experience and competence," the bishop added. "The text is a response and contribution to future decisions in the matter of xenotransplants."

Professor Emmanuele Cozzi of the Department of Surgery of Cambridge University, and professor Marialuisa Lavitrano, coordinator of the Xenotransplant Project in Italy, also spoke at the Vatican press conference, to illustrate the current state of research.

Both speakers highlighted the great hope offered today by preclinical tests and the use of transgenic pigs.

For his part, theologian Father Maurizio P. Faggioni, OFM, professor of bioethics at the Alfonsiana Academy of Rome, explained the relation articulated in the Bible between man and animals. "The recourse to animals as sources of organs is no more than an instance of the use that man can make of animals," he said.

The ethical character of these transplants, Father Faggioni added, will depend on "the evaluation of the goods that can be obtained for man or woman and the respect for certain conditions, such as avoiding unnecessary suffering for animals, and the need to observe the greatest caution at the moment of introducing uncontrollable genetic modifications that can significantly alter the biodiversity and balance of the species in the animal world."

The pontifical academy´s document in Italian on xenotransplants may be consulted at http://www.vatican.va in the section of the Pontifical Academy for Life.