In what may be a scientific miracle or transgression of human ethics, scientists were able to get the hearts of some dead pigs to beat independently again. The pigs had died of cardiac arrest one hour before the experiment.
You may remember in 2019, scientists from Yale were able to regain some brain functions in dead pigs. The team collected over 300 pig heads and removed their brains and pumped them with a special cocktail of chemicals for six hours. This project, called BrainEx it did not result in the animal regaining consciousness, but the cellular function of the brain was restored.
An extension of that named project OrganEx has recently been used on intact carcasses of cadaver pigs that had been clinically dead for one hour. One report says that the animal’s heart, liver and kidneys saw resuscitation where there was none before. Cellular repair genes were also active. “These cells are working when they shouldn’t,” said Nenad Sestan, a project scientist. Wall Street Journal.
The machine they used on the dead bodies resembled a “heart-lung machine.” They pumped a mixture of the animal’s blood and special chemicals into the body.
Advances in medicine have always been controversial, and this project is no different. Ethical questions have arisen regarding the purpose of this experiment and what it suggests. The researchers say the main goal of these trials is to see if they can restore organ function longer after death for use in future transplants. But if they can also revive the brain, or use blockers to prevent it, what does that mean for potential donors of human organs who have died?
And what if this new discovery could potentially resurrect recently dead people who died of drowning or heart attacks for example?
Reviving people who have died has long been a theme of supernatural horror films. from Frankenstein to Re-animatorthe return of the body leads to disastrous results.
There is perhaps no better example of the ethical question than in Stephen King Pet Sematary. After the tragic loss of his two-year-old son, Gage, Dr. Louis Creed takes his corpse to a cursed and remote burial ground in Maine. The area is known for bringing the dead back to life. In his grief, Creed buries his son against the warning of his neighbor Jud, who tells him, “sometimes … dead is better.”
Gage returns but is apparently possessed by a murderous entity.
Fiction in this case is much stranger than real science. But the ethical question may be the same. Is it OK to resuscitate people after death in order to save their organs for terminally ill patients? And what if the process also restores some of the deceased’s brain function? What would they be like if they “returned”?
Luckily OrganEx Yale project bioethicist Stephen Latham says the technology is “a long way from being used in humans.”