Attitudes of different population groups towards future xenotransplantation of porcine insulin producing cells
Introduction Although transplantation of porcine insulin producing cells is a promising approach in the treatment of diabetes, xenotransplantation provokes strong feelings and diverse opinions. Not only the risk for transmitting diseases to the community, but also the nature of the transplanted material activates diverse ethical, ecological and psychological concerns. However the limited number of surveys addressing this issue is only referring to solid animal organ transplantations. It can be expected that the implantation of animal cell grafts, compared to organ transplantation, will activate different emotional responses.
Materials and methods The objective of the current research project is to study attitudes of different population groups towards xenotransplantation of pig islet-cells. We wanted three research questions to be answered (a) 'Which ethical, ecological or psychological arguments do people use in favour or against xenotransplantation?' (b) 'Do patients and healthy people differ in their opinions on xenotransplantation?' and (c) do people differ in their opinions on xenotransplantation according to their professional background? In 12 focus groups (n = 117) different samples of the population were included: (a) patients with IDDM (Insulin Dependant Diabetes Mellitus) and their relatives (2 groups; n = 13); (b) physicians (2 groups; n = 17); (c) graduate students of philosophy and psychology (2 groups; n = 14); and (d) general public (6 groups; n = 73).
Results In general we can say that in Belgium where xenotransplantation is not prominent on the public agenda, most of the participants of the focus groups are not fully opposed to xenotransplantation. Contrary to our expectations arguments that refer to moral objections or problems with the body image were rarely expressed. Uncertainty about this new transplantation technique and the possibility of transferring diseases from animals to humans support a less permissive attitude towards xenotransplantation. However, we have indications that patients and healthy people differ in their opinions on xenotransplantation.
Patients Physicians and older participants showed a more permissive attitude towards xenotransplantation than healthy young adults. Especially younger participants were more opposed to xenotransplantation. Probably developmental tasks typically for each age group can explain the differences in attitudes towards xenotransplantation.