Americans Recognize Organ Shortage, Support Animal-to-Human Transplants

New York, NY
January 21, 1998

Nearly all Americans (94%) are aware of the shortage of available organs for transplant and most (62%) accept the concept of xenotransplantation, or animal-to-human transplantation, as a viable option, according to a new survey of 1,200 randomly selected individuals conducted by the National Kidney Foundation (NKF).

A simultaneous poll of primary care physicians, transplant recipients, and transplant physicians and surgeons indicated a high level of support for xenotransplantation among these groups as well.

"Human-to-human transplants, or allografts, are definitely the first choice," says Alan R. Hull, MD, NKF immediate past president, "but with 53,000 Americans currently awaiting life-saving transplants and ten people dying each day while waiting, we need to investigate other solutions to this problem."

This support for xenotransplantation is not completely without reservation. Survey respondents indicated some concern about organ compatibility and the transplant success rate. Cross-species disease transmission was also cited, although as a lesser concern, by the general public, transplant recipients and among newer primary care physicians.

Despite these concerns, nearly 75 percent of people in all the groups surveyed would consider a xenotransplant for a loved one if the organ or tissue were unavailable from a human.

Survey respondents were questioned on xenotransplantation using pigs or primates and on other alternatives for increasing the nation’s donor pool. These include the offering of financial incentives to families of organ donors, and the policy of implied consent, now used to some extent in other countries, which involves routine removal of organs unless the deceased has indicated in writing a wish not to be an organ donor.

Among the general public and transplant recipients, xenotransplantation is ranked about equal with implied consent as favored options for solving the organ crisis. Seventy-five percent of primary care doctors and transplant physicians see xenotransplantation as the most viable option. Most people believed the government should pay for xenotransplantation research, but would like doctors to regulate it.

Other Findings Include:

  • Americans are increasingly designating themselves as organ donors. Fifty-five percent of whites surveyed and one third of blacks and Hispanics plan to be organ donors. These numbers are up from one third and one quarter, respectively, in 1992, when NKF conducted a similar opinion poll.
  • Only two-thirds of those who say they are willing to donate organs of a loved one are themselves designated as organ donors.
  • People with children are slightly more likely to be organ donors than those with no children under 19.
  • Men have more positive initial reactions to xenotransplantation than women do.
  • Fewer blacks are willing to consider xenotransplants (59% vs. 71-74% of all others) but are no less likely to consider transplants.
  • Those practicing a faith and even agnostics say the clergy could influence their acceptance of xenotransplantation.
  • At least half of the transplant physicians surveyed are willing to give xenotransplantation 10 years or more before it is required to show success. The majority of them do not see cross-species infections as a particularly high risk.

Editor’s Note: The survey was funded by an unrestricted educational grant from Sandoz Transplant, a division of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation.