Pig-to-Human Transplants Condemned as ‘Cruel and Dangerous’ After Death

Animal rights organization PETA has condemned the use of animal organs in human transplantation after the world’s first living recipient of a genetically modified pig kidney passed away just weeks after receiving the organ transplantation.

On March 16, Richard “Rick” Slayman, 62, received the genetically modified organ at Mass General Hospital as a last resort treatment for end-stage kidney disease. The kidney, supplied by biotech company eGenesis, was taken from a pig donor that was genetically modified using CRISPR-cas9 technology to improve its compatibility with the human body.

The transplantation was celebrated as a “historic milestone” in medical research, which experts hope will make organ transplantation more readily available in the future. However, not everyone agrees with the use of animals in this technology.

“There never was anything to celebrate,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Senior Science Policy Manager Julia Baines said in a statement. “As we have learned from previous failed baboon heart transplants and other adventures in which another species’ organs—seen as having been produced only for humans—have been taken, along with the animal’s life, for procedures that also result in the demise of the human recipient.”

Illustration to show the location of the kidneys. Slayman received the genetically modified organ at Mass General Hospital as a last resort treatment for end-stage kidney disease.

On May 11, Massachusetts General Hospital announced that Slayman had passed away, although there was no indication that his passing was the result of his recent transplant.

While Slayman was the first living recipient of a genetically modified pig kidney transplantation, he is by no means the first to receive an organ from another animal. In August 2023, doctors from the University of Alabama at Birmingham Heersink School of Medicine transplanted modified pig kidneys into a brain-dead patient to demonstrate how these organs can function just like human organs over a specified time period. A similar case was reported two years before in September 2021.

However, so far, the living patients who have received these transplantations have only survived for short periods of time following the procedure.

“No such experiment has ever succeeded, despite the hype, and Mr Slayman is the third person to die following a pig organ transplant,” Baines said. “Countless animals are killed in appalling ways in the run-up to such procedures, covered enthusiastically by the media, which involve treating living, feeling beings as mere warehouses for experimenters to wander through.”

However, for the family of Rick Slayman, the procedure granted them an additional seven weeks of life with their loved one.

“We are extremely grateful to his care team across Massachusetts General Hospital and Mass General Brigham, especially Dr. Williams, Dr. Kawai, and Dr. Riella, who truly did everything they could to help give Rick a second chance,” Slayman’s family said in a statement.

“Their enormous efforts leading the xenotransplant gave our family seven more weeks with Rick, and our memories made during that time will remain in our minds and hearts.

“Our family is deeply saddened about the sudden passing of our beloved Rick but take great comfort knowing he inspired so many.”

Newsweek has reached out by email to Massachusetts General Hospital for comment.

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