Bioethical and legal perspectives on xenotransplantation

Monash Bioethics Review 23 (3):16-29 (2004)
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Abstract

As scientific research continues to push forward the once seemingly insurmountable barriers of medical research, xenotransplantation has been viewed as a means to overcome the current and predicted future shortages of human donor organs. The current review of Australia’s xenotransplantation guidelines by the National Health and Medical Research Council provides for a timely evaluation of the scientific merits, ethical dilemmas and legal implications of this technology. This paper contends that even if the scientific barriers of xenotransplantation were successfully circumvented, a myriad of ethical and legal questions remain. These questions include, but are not limited to, the use of ‘donor’ animals as a source of surrogate human tissues, the ability of seriously ill patients to provide fully informed consent, and the requirement of life-long monitoring of patients and third parties. This paper contends that the ethical questions and potential legal implications of xenotransplantation are so great as to outweigh any potential benefits that may be derived from this technology. Further, it is argued that as the public health risks of xenotransplantation have the potential to transcend sovereign borders and may remain latent for extended periods of time, a global regulatory approach is required in order to protect the global community and fundamental human rights.

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