Is it just me or is it extraordinary that in all the reports about the man who’s become the first person to receive a heart transplant from a pig, there was virtually no information about the pig? Where it came from. How it was treated. How it was killed. And, most importantly, whether this is really where we want to be heading.

The story of the man himself, 57-year-old David Bennett from Baltimore, was very moving. Mr Bennett has serious heart disease and was told a regular transplant was out of the question because of his poor health. However, his doctors said they were willing to try something they’d never done before, a last hope: the transplant of a pig heart. "It was either die or do this transplant,” said Mr Bennett.

Reading about his experience, I can understand why Mr Bennett said yes in the circumstances and I would almost certainly have done the same thing in his place. I have also benefited from medicines that have been tested on animals so I do not judge anyone whose treatment has serious or deadly consequences for other species. How could I? I am the same as everyone else.

But because something is good for a person, or lots of people, should not mean we ignore the wider moral questions. It strikes me as extraordinary – arrogant even – that the reports, in print and online, had virtually no detail about the pig. It’s only by digging around that you discover that it was taken from a herd bred by the biotechnology firm Revivicor which has genetically engineered pigs not to produce a sugar that causes organ rejection.

We also know that, once Mr Bennett made the decision to go ahead, an animal from Revivicor’s herd was loaded into a van and driven five hours to the University of Maryland in Baltimore. The animal was then killed and its heart placed in a device to keep it preserved until the surgery could go ahead. We will know in the coming days and weeks whether the surgery has been a success.

The University of Maryland’s Dr Christine Lau said that, should the procedure be a success, it might mean people could get an organ as they needed it, but what she didn’t do was discuss, or even mention, the number of animals we’re talking about here. Hundreds of thousands of transplants are conducted around the world every year so in the future it could mean hundreds of thousands of animals being killed to provide the organs.

You may say: so what, animals are killed for food so why not kill more to save lives? But first of all, are we properly exploring the alternatives? Greater use of an opt-out system around the world, for example, would provide many more organs for donation without the need to kill other living things. The system is already in place in the UK so let’s see what effect it has.

Secondly, if we are judged by our attitudes to other species – and we should be – we must ask whether it is right to prioritise the interests of one species over another even for a perceived good such as transplants. Pigs cannot give their consent but they are intelligent creatures with an instinct for survival and to assume that their interests are inferior and apparently not even worth discussing – as the doctors and journalists seem to have done – is problematic. In fact, there’s no other word for it: it’s speciesist.

I’d also like to draw your attention to another story that was published the same time as the transplant story. You may have seen it. It was about the death of a rat called Magawa, who sniffed out over 100 landmines in Cambodia. The charity Apopo, which trained Magawa, said he had allowed communities in Cambodia to live without fear of losing life or limb.

My point is that, in thinking about a pig that was killed to provide an organ, we should also think about a rat that saved lives without being killed. Unquestioningly taking organs from pigs reveals an assumption about our superiority and primacy over animals. But a humble rat shows us an alternative: animals can improve the world by working with us, rather than dying for us.

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