Xenografts and Baby Fae

Posted: November 29th, 2013

Xenografts and Baby Fae







Xenografts and Baby Fae

            Medicine has come a long way to include xenografts, which are transplants of animal organs into human beings or to other animals of a different species but closely related. Baby Fae was one of these kinds of patients in 1984 in Loma Linda University Medical Center by Dr Leonard Lee Bailey and his team of surgeons. The surgeon was permitted to conduct the surgery since there had been seven years of research on xenotransplants where several animals had been xenografted with organs from other species of animals. The transplant was successful and kept the baby alive for 21 more days after the surgery, which was a breakthrough in medicine, but also a disappointment to Dr. Bailey who had hopes that baby Fae would survive (Manning, 2000). The surgery was surrounded by many debates raging from religious responses, to animal rights groups and ethical treatment for animal groups among other groups were in opposition to the xenografts citing many reasons it is not right. However, the surgery was approved, which I feel was okay despite the much opposition from the various groups. In addition, with the current demand that has greatly exceeded supply, xenografts would come in to remedy this.

Baby Fae had a hypoplastic heart, which is a fatal condition affecting many infants, and rarely do children survive the condition for more than a few days after they are born. Even the corrective surgery only had a 40% chance of survival, meaning it was more likely the baby would die than survive the corrective surgery (Manning, 2000). Therefore, Dr Bailey suggested the xenograft though it was experimental, and the outcome would not be certain. The surgery was done in home that the new drug, cyclosporine, which would help in inhibiting the body from rejecting alien tissue in order to accept the heart from the baboon. Experimental surgeries came with many controversies and oppositions from various people. Considering this was experimental, it was bound to have much opposition from the various humanitarian and social groups within the society.

The first opposition was from the animal rights groups that felt this was treating animals unfairly, and the surgery should not have been done. Many complained that despite animal transplants being good for humans, they are not good for animals (Hull, 1986). From my view, humans are superior to animals or their life is more valued than the life of animal. Thus, using an animal organ to save a human being was not wrong since the human life of more value than the animal. For those who felt that animals had been mistreated, I think it all matters with the reason of doing the act. The animal was killed to save the life of a human. This would mean that killing of animals is unethical, including those killed in order for people to have food, and clothing as well as shoes among other things. The act of getting these wears involves killing of the animal, which is n different from killing the baboon to save a life. The only difference in this case is the reason for killing, which is even nobler than other reasons that people kill.

Another opposition came from the churches and religious organization. However, the seventh day Adventist did not see the sacrificing of animal to save human life as wrong or unethical. People use animals in many ways, thus, this would be another good use of the animal. Other religious organizations opposed the transplanting of a baboon’s heart to the baby on grounds of spirituality (Manning, 2000). I think that the spirit and the body are two different things, and the body does not perceive the brain. Rather, it is perceived in the brain. Therefore, replacing the heart of the baby with that of a baboon would not mean the baby would lose its spirit since the heart does not perceive the spirit. In addition, this would be the same as saying that the corrective surgery of using artificial hearts would be wrong and interfere with the spirit of a person. In addition, transplanting of a man’s heart to another man would mean that the spirit too, would be transferred or affected, which would not be true.

The only justifiable opposition was from the other medical professionals who felt that the difference between the animal and human tissue and the incompatibility would not allow the transplant to be successful as there had been prior xenografts where the patients died immediately after the surgery. However, the fact that baby Fae lived for 21 days serves to illustrate that more could be done to make the xenografts successful (Van, 1985). In addition, several medical professionals have sited that incompatibility of the tissue and blood type was not the main reason causing death, and there could be more (Breo, 1985). Currently, with more research there has been progress that might make it possible for xenografts to save lives in the long-term for smaller organs.

In a world faced by many health related complications, I feel that advancement towards xenografts would be very crucial. There has been an increased demand for organs for transplant, while the supply is not going up. Thus, there is a huge need for organs of transplant. Transplant from animals can be availed easily without much effort like having to wait for those who donate their organs upon death. With current research indicating that this would be a feasible remedy, I think it is worth trying since it would save many lives. For instance, there has been an increased death toll for those dying in the transplant waiting list due to scarcity of transplant organ (McCarthy, 1996). I have been a victim of this, where a close relative died awaiting a heart transplant. With a good supply of organs, many lives could be saved or even prolonged in the very critical cases.

Although xenograft has not been quite successful for major organs such as the heart and liver among others, it has been successful in other organs such as replacing damaged blood vessels where they are replaced with those of a pig. Therefore, there is chance that a solution to making xenotransplants for major organs such as the heart will be successful in the future. However, more research is required if there is to be any success of major xenografts. On the other hand, the ethical issues revolving this field have also come a long way, where many people fighting for animal rights feel that animals have equal rights as human beings, and should not be sacrificed to save animals.



Breo, D.L. (1985). Baby Fae Surgeon Still Chases His Dream. Retrieved from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1985-12-22/features/8503280821_1_baby-fae-ab-blood-baboon

Hull, R.T. (1986). The Baby Fae Case: Treatment, Experiment, or Animal Abuse? State University of New York at Buffalo.

Manning, J. (2000). Baby Fae. R retrieved from http://eightiesclub.tripod.com/id302.htm

McCarthy, C. (1996). Pain Relief, Acceleration of Death, and Criminal Law. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 6 (2): 183-188

Van, J. (1985). Scientific Debate over Baby Fae. Retrieved from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1985-12-20/news/8503280277_1_baby-fae-baboon-type-ab-blood


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