The ethics of farming human-pig chimeras and non-chimeric pigs

Dr Koplin Julian1

1University Of Melbourne, Carlton, Australia

It may soon be possible to generate human organs inside of human-pig chimeras (animals composed of a mix of pig and human cells) via a process called interspecies blastocyst complementation. This paper discusses the central ethical concern raised by this practice, which I term the moral uncertainty argument. The moral uncertainty argument holds that human-pig chimeras may possess cognitive capacities that are morally relevant but difficult to detect. Accordingly, if we kill human-pig chimeras for their organs, we risk perpetrating a serious moral wrong.

After describing the moral uncertainty argument against ‘farming’ human-pig chimeras, this paper shows how the same argument may apply to our current uses of non-chimeric pigs in agriculture and research – practices that are not widely considered ethically controversial. There is therefore an important tension between two common moral views: that farming human-pig chimeras for their organs is ethically concerning, and that farming non-chimeric pigs for food or research is ethically benign. In the interests of moral consistency, at least one of these views ought to be revised.


Julian Koplin is a Research Fellow with the Biomedical Ethics Research Group, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Melbourne Law School, the University of Melbourne. His research interests include the ethics of emerging biotechnologies, the methods of philosophical bioethics, and transplant ethics. Julian was awarded his PhD in bioethics from Monash University in 2017.

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