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


An aid to ethical discernment




The process of transplanting animal organs into human beings, so-called xenotransplantation, was started to remedy a severe shortage in donor organs. According to scientists, at present a great number of questions attached to xenotransplantation has not been solved yet, such as issues related to immunosuppression, which is required to control the rejection of the alien animal organ, the functioning of animal organs within the human organism, and the risk of infections. Apart from taking into account considerable uncertainties that cannot be clarified by medicine, an ethical evaluation of xenotransplantation must also acknowledge a broad range of other factors.

In order to gain an overview and orientation regarding this modern branch of research, the protestant-catholic contact and dialog group that provides a framework for consultation and agreement between the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany and the German Bishops' Conference suggested establishing a task force with the mandate of elaborating the most important aspects for an ethical assessment of xenotransplantation. The Church Office of the Evangelical Church in Germany and the Secretariat of the German Bishops' Conference asked representatives from various fields of expertise to participate in the task force:

Prof. Dr. Dietrich von Engelhardt (medical and science history), Lübeck,
Prof. Dr. Johannes Fischer (systematic theology), Basel,
Dr. Wiltrud Kernstock-Jörns (medical psychotherapy), Berlin,
Prof. Dr. Johannes Reiter (moral theology), Mainz,
External Lecturer Dr. Hans J. Schlitt (surgery), Hanover,
Prof. Dr. Kurt Seelmann (criminal law, medical law and philosophy of law): observer's contribution (legal aspects), Basel.

Under the aegis of Dr. Ursula Beykirch, Bonn, and church official Dr. Renate Knüppel, Hanover, the task force developed and formulated a joint position. In the course of the discussions it became clear that Dr. Kernstock-Jörns would not be able to support some of the essential statements, particularly in relation to psychological aspects of transplantation medicine and the ethical evaluation of xenotransplantation. It was not possible to integrate in the text her rejection of continued research on xenotransplantation, which is based on a different view of the relationship between humans and animals and on a different concept of human medical therapy. Her personal position is reflected in a separate chapter at the end of the text.
This text does not provide a comprehensive and conclusive discussion of all issues related to xenotransplantation. Rather, it should be regarded as a contribution to the general debate and an aid to ethical discernment, reflecting the present level of knowledge on xenotransplantation. 

Hanover / Bonn, May 1998

Church Office of the Evangelical Church in Germany 

Secretariat of the German Bishops' Conference



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