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February 1993

Baboon Livers and the Human Good

Author Affiliations

From the Center for Biomedical Ethics, School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.

Arch Surg. 1993;128(2):131-133. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1993.01420140008001

The prospects for successfully transplanting a baboon liver into a human being have been raised by the well-publicized recent case in which, under the direction of Thomas E. Starzl, MD, a baboon liver was transplanted into a 35-year-old man who died 71 days later after a stroke. It was thought that the patient's hepatitis, which would attack any human liver, would be unable to attack a baboon liver. Starzl's planned future transplants will clarify this point (New York Times. September 9,1992:A9). I only raise an underlying moral question: is a human life more important than the life of any nonhuman animal?

The case presents a pointed opportunity for debate between those who would save a human life at the sacrifice of a baboon, and those who find such salvation morally disgraceful. If it turns out that the use of baboon livers is scientifically feasible, and setting aside questions of just

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