The pig in the bloke: A review of human-pig hybrids

396
by thornypup via flickr

Some people eat like pigs. Some people sweat like pigs. Some people simply are pigs.
Some people have pig valve transplants. And apparently any time soon, some pigs will carry human organ transplants. You may call bullshit on that, but it’s not actually that far from the truth.

A few weeks ago; scientists published a revolutionary study revealing that in the near future human organs could be grown inside pigs for use in transplants. Meaning, if you need a new organ you kind of just go ahead and grow it in a pig. Well maybe you not you, but some scientist totally will. Because this newly created “pig” no longer consists of pig-parts only, it is called a chimera – just like that creepy, fire-breathing hybrid monster in Greek mythology. Let’s hope that’s a coincidence. Personally, I would have preferred something more original, like pigman or hupig, but that’s not really the point here. It all comes down to the fact that now our ingenious master species can grow organs from scratch. Just like magic. And let’s be honest, who wants to grow fruit and veggies in their backyard if they could be growing organs instead. How will your Big Bertha Bell Pepper compare to my shiny new kidney. It won’t, get over it.

The way this whole organ growing works is that human stem cells get injected into early-stage pig embryos. In theory, these piglets would then develop human organs or something. Ideally, these organs are genetically compatible with whatever patient that needs them and potentially save that person’s life. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it. Completely mental, but absolutely amazing.
Until you consider the downsides, which are beyond scary. The Greek mythology kind of scary, so maybe they did choose the right name after all.

First of all, there’s the prospect of the emergence of a new species of unpredictable and bizarre hybrid creatures. What if they just wander off into the wild and start reproducing and whatnot. And then what, we hunt them?! Kill them?! Let’s say the chimeras develop a partially human brain. Can we still justify killing them? Can we justify killing them to save the life of another human being with a human brain? And if so, wouldn’t that be insanely hypocritical?! What percentage human do you need to be classified as a human? The line between what is human and what is not just got a little blurrier if you ask me. It raises a whole lot of questions we never really had to ask ourselves before, starting with questions about human dignity and ending with a whole bunch of practical issues. But that’s not the only problem.

Imagine a world in which you can replace organs like you currently replace light bulbs or Tupperware. Just like that. Again, sounds pretty appealing, doesn’t it. You could just give up on giving up smoking and embrace the lung damage, because it’s not really that big of a threat if you can get a new lung at Aldi. If organ failure does not lead to death any longer, what’s the point in maintaining a healthy lifestyle to prevent it. The only reason for people to stop smoking as much as they did back in the days was the discovery of the correlation between smoking and lung cancer. Also, if less people die from organ failure, less people die in general. We can basically all live forever. Or at least a lot longer than we do now. Hypothetically speaking of course. And then what?! As much as you want your mom/dad/grandma/boyfriend/sister/insert-anyone-you-care-about to survive, we can’t all live forever. People need to die. Life is defined by having a beginning and an end. The whole experience is defined by being confined. Without these limits, life does not mean anything. The process of ageing shapes our perception of reality at the different stages of our lives. Life’s a journey we take. Likewise, for our bodies it’s a journey of decay. You may argue that we fail to accept this process of ageing in many other regards. We replace hip joints and freeze ovaries. We use anti-ageing creams and get hair transplants to look younger. We are definitely interfering already, but this would be a different level. Organs are different. Our main organs -brain, heart, lungs, liver, etc.- are sort of what an engine is for a car. Our mortality depends on their performance. Everything else can most likely be fixed in one way or another. If replacing organs becomes commonplace, we defy the natural course of life. We defy death, if you want to make it sound more dramatic than it already does. Unfortunately, our planet isn’t game since it does not provide enough resources for an infinitely (or even moderately) growing world population. Kind of a big problem. Lots of big problems. And I haven’t even gotten the chance to talk about animal rights after all.

Obviously my reflection on the topic has been far-fetched and exaggerated, and quite possibly rather opinionated. I did not intend to hate on scientific progress. On the contrary, I am genuinely excited these scientists discovered the possibility to grow organs from scratch. But just because we are able to do something does not always mean we should do it. With potentially fatal progressions like this one, it is especially important that we consider every remotely possible consequence before irreversibly causing havoc. Better safe than sorry.