Oh, Great: Another Reason To Kill Pigs

Much of the current debate around health and ethics seems to be leading people away from animal-based diets. That’s great in my book.

So, it’s a little sad that, just as the future starts to look a little kinder, gentler, and more compassionate, along comes another reason to justify killing pigs. And it’s really hard to refute:

This month, scientists gathered at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington to talk about Crispr, a new method for editing genes. In the past couple of years, the technique has become so powerful and accessible that many experts are calling for limits on its potential uses — especially altering human embryos with changes that could be inherited by future generations.

Among the scientists describing recent advances was one of Crispr’s pioneers, George Church of Harvard Medical School. In the midst of his presentation, packed with the fine details of biochemistry and genetics, Dr. Church dropped a bombshell.

In a typical experiment, scientists use Crispr to alter a single gene. But in recent work with pig cells, Dr. Church and his colleagues used Crispr to alter 62 genes at once. The researchers hope that this achievement may someday make it possible to use pig organs for transplantation into humans.

I understand the argument: we’ve been killing pigs for thousands of years just to eat and wear them. Why wouldn’t we continue killing them for the arguably nobler purpose of improving our quality of life?

And honestly, if one of my friends — much less my husband or boyfriend — were in need of an organ, and a pig could provide it, I can’t say I’d be opposed. Emotionally, that’s what I’d want, even though the rational side of me would be upset.

Still, it seems like there ought to be a better way. Given all the scientific advances we’ve seen in recent years — growing organs in labs, growing them on our own bodies, building them with 3D printers — I have to wonder if this is really a step forward.

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