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CRISPR pigs, pigoons and the future of organ transplantation. An ethical investigation of the creation of CRISPR-engineered humanised organs in pigs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-52
Number of pages18
JournalEtica e Politica
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018

King's Authors


Bioethics operates on two dimensions: one is the future, i.e. the temporal subject of bioethicists’ speculations, and one is the present, the point of influence of bioethics. In order for bioethics to operate on two dimensions, bioethicists have to resort to biofutures, or imaginaries of possible futures populated by extrapolations of uses of emerging biotechnologies. This paper discusses the possible biofuture in which we are able to grow humanised organs in pigs for the purposes of human transplantation, which has brought xenotransplantation closer to the present thanks to experiments conducted by George Church at MIT, which use CRISPR genome editing technologies to edit out a number of retroviruses that are endogenous in pigs and can pose a risk of human infection in xenotransplantation. This paper juxtaposes the biofuture imagined by Church, where organ transplants become routine and are customized on the basis of the recipient, with the biofuture imagined by Canadian author Margaret Atwood in her 2003 novel Oryx and Crake, who in a sense predicted the advent of CRISPR pigs with her ‘pigoons’, engineered pigs with multiple organs also for the purpose of human transplantation. Although feeding on the same material or elementary building blocks, Church and Atwood end up with opposing outlooks on the moral implications of using animals as biofactories. While bioethicists often rely on biofutures imagined by scientists, with the possible risk of buying into epistemic scientism and reinforcing socio-technical expectations, in this paper I argue that science fiction, or speculation fiction, has an important role to play in providing narrative fodder for alternative imagined biofutures.

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