Medical ethicists criticized University of Pittsburgh Medical Center doctors for using a man infected with the AIDS virus for the first transplant of a baboon liver into a human.
"I'm concerned about the exploitation of this guy, and that ultimately this was seen purely and simply as an experiment," said Dr. Michael Grodin, a Boston University professor.The chairman of the Pitt review board that approved the operation confirmed Wednesday that the patient had the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.
But Dr. Richard L. Cohen said the man's HIV status did not influence the panel's decision to approve the transplant.
"We didn't think - since he didn't have active AIDS - it would make any difference," he said. "Nobody could say one way or the other what difference it would make, what his life expectancy would be."
Some medical ethicists said the man should have been ruled out as a candidate because of the HIV infection.
"It's difficult to defend the use of someone with HIV, simply because it's another complicating factor in trying to determine what's going on in the transplant," said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at University of Minnesota.
"This guy was the most vulnerable of vulnerable patients," said Grodin, who heads a medical review panel in Boston. "Dying patients should not be used."
The 35-year-old man died at the medical center Sunday from bleeding in his brain. He had received the baboon organ while suffering from hepatitis B, which was destroying his own liver.
The man's surgeons and other medical center officials had declined to say whether he had the HIV virus, citing confidentiality restrictions. The man's identity also was withheld.