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image of two gloved hands passing a surgical instrument under bright lights

The news media significantly influence public perceptions of medical innovation. How cutting- edge medical innovation is presented—what receives attention and what does not receive attention—is ethically relevant. A report last week in the New York Times of a pig heart transplant performed at the University of Maryland Medical Center exemplifies a common myopic view of xenotransplantation research. The article describes the case of a 58-year-old Navy veteran with end-stage heart disease, too sick to qualify for a human organ transplant, who received instead a genetically modified pig heart—the second patient to undergo this experimental surgical intervention. The patient appears as a heroic volunteer, helping to advance science in the hope of a long shot at extended survival.

The innovative nature of xenotransplantation gets prominent attention. In a breathless tone, the article’s author writes, “In recent years, the science of xenotransplantation has taken huge strides with gene editing and cloning technologies designed to make animal organs less likely to be rejected by the human immune system.”  The pig donor, supplied by the for-profit company Revivicor, had 10 genetic modifications. The patient...