(Bob Aronson, the author of this blog, received a new heart on August 21, 2007)
People who need an organ transplant face two hurdles; one is the limited availability of organs and the second is the possibility that if you do get an organ your body might reject it.
First let us discuss the donor issue. Since the national Organ Transplant Act of 1984 The United States has depended on the altruistic motive for obtaining organs. That means we must depend on people becoming organ donors voluntarily through the goodness of their hearts. Unfortunately despite increasing efforts the gap between those who need organs and the number of organs available is steadily increasing. Only about 35 percent of Americans are donors and with over 100,000 people on the transplant list thousands are dying each year because of the lack of donor organs. Many more thousands probably die because, for whatever reason, they never got on the list. We’ve tried the altruistic method now for twenty-six years and must admit that it simply isn’t working.
The second issue is rejection. Without anti-rejection drugs most of us who have been transplanted would likely reject our new organs and die within a short time of undergoing the surgery unless the new organ came from an identical twin. Short of that, though, there is always a risk. Some people die even with anti-rejection drugs like Cyclosporine. So what’s the solution? There is one potential remedy that seems to make the most sense despite its potential for extreme controversy and that is cloning.
I’m not talking about cloning human beings for their organs but rather cloning specific organs. It is called therapeutic cloning as opposed to reproductive cloning. Engaging in therapeutic cloning would solve the two problems I outlined. It would greatly diminish or even end the organ shortage and, because we would be using our own cells for the cloning process, our bodies would not reject the organs and there would be no need for anti-rejection drugs which, in turn, would reduce the cost to the patient, insurance companies and the government.
While cloning human organs is theoretically possible success rates have been very low and very expensive. But, according to the Human Genome Project, http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/cloning.shtml#organsQ “Scientists hope that one day therapeutic cloning can be used to generate tissues and organs for transplants. To do this, DNA would be extracted from the person in need of a transplant and inserted into an enucleated egg. After the egg containing the patient’s DNA starts to divide, embryonic stem cells that can be transformed into any type of tissue would be harvested. The stem cells would be used to generate an organ or tissue that is a genetic match to the recipient. In theory, the cloned organ could then be transplanted into the patient without the risk of tissue rejection. If organs could be generated from cloned human embryos, the need for organ donation could be significantly reduced.”
Experts say that the benefits of organ cloning are almost too numerous to list but I will name just a few.
- Skin for burn victims
- Vital organs like hearts, lungs, livers and kidneys could be produced.
- Bone marrow for those who suffer with leukemia.
- Genetic therapy for Cystic Fibrosis.
- We may learn how to turn cells on and off and therefore develop a cure for cancer.
- We may be able to grow new nerves for spinal cord injuries and perhaps put the wheelchair industry out of business.
Yes, much of this is wistful thinking but researchers say it is possible, that more effectively treating or even curing some diseases may not be that far away. What do you think? Is it morally or ethically acceptable to clone organs? Whatever your position we would all like to hear the rationale for your decision.
Please comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And – spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. On-line registration can be done at http://www.donatelife.net/index.php Whenever you can, help people formally register. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be a donor you may save or positively affect over 50 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.
You are also invited to join Organ Transplantation Initiative (OTI) http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=152655364765710 a group dedicated to providing help and information to donors, donor families, transplant patients and families, caregivers and all other interested parties. Your participation is important if we are to influence decision makers to support efforts to increase organ donation and support organ regeneration, replacement and research efforts.