David Bennett becomes the first patient to successfully undergo xenotransplantation

On Friday, Jan. 7, 57 year-old David Bennett became the first person to successfully undergo a heart transplant from a genetically-modified pig by Dr. Bartley Griffith at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Doctors perform the heart transplant on David Bennett. (University of Maryland School of Medicine)

Bennett was convicted of bar stabbing in 1988 and charged with intent to murder and carrying a concealed weapon. His victim, Edward Shumaker, was put in a wheelchair and later died. Shumaker’s family was upset he got to live while Edward didn’t, and controversy has since grown regarding the ethics of genetically modifying a pig for organs and a convicted felon getting a second chance.

“[A pig heart] was purely experimental and he was never going to get out of jail, he had a bad heart, was probably going to die in jail, so what the heck,” said John Vivoda, a past heart transplant patient.

Bennett would have died either way due to his irregular heartbeat, and he did not qualify for a human heart.

Ethicality on the pigs’ side also comes into play, as it is disagreed upon to raise animals for the sake of harvesting their organs.

Dr. Bartley Griffith (left) and patient David Bennett (right). (University of Maryland School of Medicine)

“People saying it’s inhumane are the same people that eat bacon and don’t think anything about it, it’s basically the same thing just you eat one of them,” said Lena Novak, part-time volunteer at the Historic Wagner Farm.

Whether or not the heart could have gone to someone deemed more deserving than a past felon remains controversial, as the doctors who performed the surgery claim that they saw Bennett as any other deserving patient with no commentary on his legal past. Nonetheless, this surgery was a huge milestone for scientists and opened the possibility of a whole new alternative market to human organs.