Can pigs save us? Is this the beginning of animal to human transplants? Or even human-pig hybrids? It seems like this scenario may well be the case as a result of a recent scientific breakthrough. According to an article in the Telegraph in the U.K., scientists in Melbourne, Australia used a ventilator and pump to the animal lungs to keep them breathing while human blood flowed through them. And this system worked exactly like lungs do by sending blood without oxygen into the lungs which came out as blood with oxygen. Presumably, this process might help humans who have lost the use of their lungs and need a some help from our animal friends.
The scientists considered this procedure a significant breakthrough after experimenting with combining pig lungs and human blood for 20 years. But repeatedly, they encountered failure because blood clots formed almost immediately which blocked the further flow of blood. So about two years ago, the experiments ended. So what made the pig-human breakthrough for breathing possible? Well, that’s the part that brings up all kinds of ethical issues. The scientists added human DNA to the pigs as they grew up, which reduced the clotting and the rejection of lungs by the human host.
Thus, the experiment worked. But that raises ethical questions, because if the pigs have human DNA, what are the implications for society? Even medical ethicists, such as Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini Associate Professor at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne, have expressed concerns, since, according to Tonti-Filippini, adding the DNA creates a “human-pig” or hybrid. The potential for such research are mind-boggling. For example, maybe if there is just a little DNA, this might still be a pig, though with a bit of human characteristics, a little like topping a cup of coffee with a dash of cream. But as you add more and more DNA, perhaps to use other pig organs in humans, does the pig become something else, a little like turning a cup of regular coffee into a cappuccino or latte? And perhaps with more DNA, the pig might take on distinctly human characteristics, such as being able to talk or read.
Years ago, in the book Animal Farm, George Orwell imagined a farm with talking pigs, and there have been films with talking pigs, most notably the 1995 Babe starring James Oliver Cromwell. But those works were just fantasies back then, used to create a kind of parallel world of animals with human characteristics to tell us something about our own society. But now this is real. Scientists have the potential to create pigs that might seem increasingly human. Maybe the pigs might even be able to use computers and type out messages with large keyboards. So who knows? You might think you are interacting with and even planning a date with someone you think is a dream date, but he or she turns out to be a pig! And no pun intended – because this is for real.
And if such a transformation can happen with pigs, just think of the implications for adding human DNA to other animals – or conversely adding animal DNA to human babies to give them the characteristics of certain animals, such as the power of a lion or the cunning of a wolf. We could have chimp-humans, orangutan-humans, wolf-humans, and so on. We already have such transformations in sci-fi books and films. But what happens when these becomes an everyday reality? Do we consider such combinations citizens? Do we provide them with a basic education? And what if a human falls in love with an animal-human combo? Do we grant them the right to marry? At what point do we consider these animal-humans worthy of full citizenship, rather than just treating them as the providers of medical aids to help humans overcome accidents and diseases and live longer?
The possibilities for the future are enormous. You might even start thinking about your dog or cat in a new way.