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12 / 03 / 2009 - Use aborted baby organs in transplants, urges scientist
Kidneys and livers from aborted foetuses could be given to the desperately ill and ease the organ donor shortage, a leading scientist has claimed.
Professor Sir Richard Gardner, an Oxford University stem cell expert, said foetal tissues may offer a more realistic solution to the lack of organs than other technologies being developed.
But the proposal has horrified pro-life and Christian groups, who say it is 'morally abhorrent', and raises the prospect of abortions being timed to suit transplant patients.
Calling for studies into the feasibility of transplanting foetal organs, Sir Richard, an advisor to Britain's fertility watchdog and the Royal Society, said he was surprised the possibility had not been considered, and that experiments in mice have shown that foetal kidneys grow extremely quickly when transplanted to adult animals.
Sir Richard said: 'It is probably a more realistic technique in dealing with the shortage of kidney donors than others.'
However, he added that much research would be needed to show such transplants were effective.
Almost 7,000 of the 8,000 Britons waiting for a transplant need a kidney. More than 300 are hoping for a liver, 222 need lungs and almost 100 have requested a heart.
Kidney donors have a less than one-in-three chance of receiving an organ in any given year, and hundreds on the transplant list will die before a donor becomes available. Kidneys can be provided by a live donor, but this involves major surgery.
Stem cells, 'master cells' widely hailed as a 'repair kit' for the body, offer hope. However, the creation of fully-functioning 3D organs is 'remote', Sir Richard said.
Other research is focusing on designer pigs with 'humanised' organs, but cross-species transplants carry the risk of disease, Sir Richard told an Oxford International Biomedical Centre conference.
The use of aborted foetuses 'is something that could be done but it's not something that's talked about much', Sir Richard said. He added: 'It is at least a temporary solution.'
Dr Peter Saunders, of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said the transplants would be immoral as every human being, even the unborn, deserved 'protection, respect, wonder and empathy'.
Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, described the proposal as 'absolutely horrifying'. She said: 'At what stage do you say to the woman who is to have an abortion, "Can we have some organs for transplant?'' '
But Professor Stuart Campbell, who has argued for the abortion time limit to be lowered, had no ethical objections to the proposal.
He said many babies were aborted quite late, 'and if they are going to be terminated, it is a shame to waste their organs'.
He added: 'I am sure very few of those on the transplant list would rather die than accept an organ from an aborted foetus.'
Source: Fiona Macrae - Daily Mail