Feline Kidney Transplants Pose Ethical Questions
Arthur received his new kidney on May 15, 2014. Arthur is a flame pointed Siamese cat, traditional style. He was diagnosed with chronic renal failure about a year ago. The operation took place at the University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital. It was the hospital’s second successful feline kidney transplant using adult stem cells which helps the patient’s body accept the new kidney. Adult stem cells seem to do a similar job as immune suppressing drugs such as cyclosporine.
The lead surgeon in the operation, Dr Chad Schmiedt, says that he believes that UGA is the only veterinary facility using stem cells in feline kidney transplants. The use of stem cells in organ transplants decreases the risk of infection and lowers the risk of organ rejection. Also, the patient has an improved renal function a year after the surgery. For the scientifically minded these are “mesenchymal” stem cells.
The first cat to receive a kidney transplant using stem cells to improve the outcome is apparently doing well today. The surgery was performed in 2013.
Arthur had, in fact, been turned down for a kidney transplant by two other hospitals because of possible post-op complications due to concerns that Arthur wouldn’t accept the new kidney as he is unable to absorb as much immune suppressing drug as demanded by the operation.
Of course, all the focus is on the patient and the process. I have rarely seen articles about feline kidney transplants. It must be a rare procedure because of both the expense and the success rate. That said, we know that feline kidney disease is a major health problem especially in older cats so there are lots of opportunities to do kidney transplants.
I’d like to focus on the kidney donor. His name is Joey. We are told that he had been part of a research programme at the College of Veterinary Medicine. I presume that means at Georgia University. Well, I have negative thoughts about this; he was part of a research programme. It appears to be a reference to animal testing, which as far as I’m concerned can never be justified. There are ethical issues surrounding animal testing and there are ethical questions involved in feline organ transplants.
Many people will think it is ridiculous to say this but Joey had no choice in the matter. He did not donate a kidney by choice. The operation to remove his kidney was imposed upon him and there is an element, in this double operation procedure, of experimentation. To me, it appears to be about veterinary surgeons at a university exploring the possibilities of organ transplantation amongst the cat population using stem cells to boost the chances of success. Are these experiments being carried out as a subtle form of animal testing as a precursor for human organ transplantation using stem cells as a means to reduce infection and improve the success rate?
I’m just asking the question because nobody has addressed the ethical issues as far as I can tell. A good point, however, is that the transplant programme at this hospital insists that the donor be adopted by the recipient cat’s family allowing both cats to live together as companions. Good – but it does beg the question whether they will get on. It doesn’t automatically follow that an individual cat will get along with another individual cat notwithstanding that he has saved his life.
For me, there are interesting ethical questions in feline kidney transplants. Not only is there the question, as mentioned, of not being able to receive the donor’s consent, there’s also the question of whether the recipient cat’s owner should put their cat through such an arduous operation for what may be limited benefits. There may be an element of misplaced human desire going on here. What I mean is that people do it for themselves or for the cat?
Also, of course, no one really knows how the recipient cat feels after the operation. The transplant may be a technical success and the patient may live for a year or more after the operation but how good was that year for the car? Would the recipient cat have requested a transplant? This is not only about the inability of getting consent from the donor cat; it is also about failing to obtain the consent of the recipient. If we are honest this more about people than cats. This is where a cat owner truly has to be a cat guardian.However….
I am not against feline kidney transplants. Please don’t misunderstand the point of the post. There are real potential benefits. I just feel that scientist/veterinary surgeons need to ask so tough ethical questions. Are they doing all this to improve their status amongst their peers?
And should there not be a greater focus on eliminating the causes of feline kidney disease and urinary tract health problems which are arguably often caused by inappropriate commercial cat foods and lifestyles?