Xenotransplantation

An aid to ethical discernment

prepared by a working group on behalf of the Church Office of the Evangelical Church in Germany and the Secretariat of the German Bishops' Conference

Joint Texts No.13, 1998

Xenotransplantation

An aid to ethical discernment

4. Psychological aspects

There can only be a preliminary answer as to how people will react to genetically modified xenografts, psychologically speaking, by resorting to experiences gained in the field of human-to-human organ transplants. Furthermore, statements by individuals made on emotional grounds or based on hypothetical considerations can be included in the assessment. So far, there are no representative empirical studies on that topic. And even when such studies become available, they will merely be able to give percentage rates to measure the range of mental perceptions that are already existent today. What is needed are studies to that effect on patients and their families, doctors and nurses as well as researchers. The psychological reactions to the implantation of xenogenic heart valves that has been practiced for some time now will be only of limited relevance for the psychological reactions that can be expected in the context of transplanting genetically modified hearts, kidneys, etc. that have been harvested from animals.

According to some reports, people who were to receive a foreign organ and who subsequently underwent the transplantation experience a process of internal ambivalence. The thought of having a foreign organ implanted in their body confronts people with their extremely serious state of health or even with the inevitable imminence of death. Shock and fears caused by this, but also the hope to survive and to get well again, require a great deal of time to be spent on internal clarification. If the patient develops a positive attitude toward the xenograft, the chances for long-term survival are improved.

Fears and reserves against an animal organ could be accompanied by various questions: Will it be a psychological burden on the human patient to know that the organ was taken from a pig? Due to this fact, will that person regard himself or herself inferior to other people? What kind of an influence does the implantation of an animal organ into a human have on the identity the patient senses to have? Questions of this nature emerge in particular when big and vital organs such as hearts, kidneys, etc. are to be implanted. By way of how we feel about our body, these organs are closely related to psychosomatic processes.

The reservations will be counterbalanced by positive feelings, assessments and experiences. For a small number of people, receiving an animal's organ could also create a feeling of close affinity to the animal kingdom. The majority of people today will prefer their own survival to the survival of an animal.

 




 


 

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