Kidneys and livers should be harvested from aborted babies to help deal with the organ donor shortage, a stem cell professor has said.
Sir Richard Gardner of Oxford University thinks the move would be a more realistic alternative to other technologies which are being developed.
But pro-lifers called the suggestion “absolutely horrifying”, saying unborn babies should be treated with the same respect as all other people.
In the UK 7,000 of the 8,000 people waiting for a transplant are in need of a kidney. Over 300 need a liver transplant, 222 need lungs, and almost 100 people have requested a heart transplant.
In any given year patients needing a kidney have less than a one-in-three chance of receiving the organ.
Scientists are currently exploring several ways of addressing the shortage including ‘humanised’ organs in genetically modified pigs.
But Sir Richard says foetal tissues may offer a more realistic solution to the lack of organs and is surprised that the approach has not been suggested before.
He said it “is something that could be done but it’s not something that’s talked about much. It is at least a temporary solution.”
However, Dr Peter Saunders of the Christian Medical Fellowship said that unborn children deserve “protection, respect, wonder and empathy.”
Speaking on the ethical issues surrounding Dr Gardner’s suggestion, Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics said: “At what stage do you say to the woman who is to have an abortion, “Can we have some organs for transplant?”
Last year the prime minister’s plans to introduce a national organ donation register were rejected.
Tim Statham of the National Kidney Federation stressed that “it isn’t a lack of donors that lies at the heart of this problem. There’s a shortage of transplant surgeons, lack of culture to encourage transplants”.
Yet in January this year scientists in Glasgow were given the go-ahead to inject cells made from an aborted baby into patients’ brains, despite pro-life groups warning the proposals were unethical.
The scientists involved argued: “If it works, as it has done in animal model systems, it may allow new nerve cells to grow or regeneration of existing cells and actual recovery of function in patients who would not otherwise be able to regain function.”
John Smeaton, director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children warned that “killing one member of the human race to help another” is “unethical in every way”.