The Animal Issue in Xenotransplantation: Controversies in France and the United States
History and philosophy of the life sciences 2009; 31(3-4): 405-28
In recent years scientists have created genetically modified pigs for the purpose of xenotransplantations. These are transplants of animal organs into human patients. But xenotransplantation has a long history. Since the early twentieth century, many surgeons tried to insert animal organs into human and non-human bodies. This paper examines the controversies that these innovations have caused in the United States and France, including the notion of the objectification of animals. Three phases are described. The historical review shows that far from the choice of pigs being "natural" it turns out to be recent and to follow controversies surrounding the possible use of primates. During the last phase, the scientists have internalized the "animal issue" in their practice: the official donor is now the pig, and the animals are treated respectfully during all the lab manipulations. Since pigs are different from humans they can be objectified and thus absorbed. This objective distance is, however, threatened by new discourses on animal rights, by genetic manipulations that "humanise" pigs, and by scientific practice itself that recognizes a moral proximity between pigs and men.
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