Baby Fae, A Baboon Heart, And Bioethics

By | October 23, 2019

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Baby Fae, the world's first infant to receive a baboon heart transplant. Doctors at Loma Linda said they were elated with the child's progress. Baby Fae died 21 days after the controversial transplant. Source: (

On October 14, 1984, a tiny, premature, and the very sick baby was born in California. Although her birth certificate listed her name as Stephanie Fae Beauclair, she became known to the world as Baby Fae.

Baby Fae was born with a fatal heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Babies born with this condition always pass away within a week or two, so Baby Fae's mother was advised to take her tiny baby home to die in comfort. One doctor, however---Leonard Lee Bailey of Loma Linda University Medical Center---offered the family hope. His controversial proposition caught the world's attention and thrust tiny Baby Fae into the middle of bioethical debate. Here is the story of Baby Fae, a baboon heart, and bioethics.

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Dr. Leonard Bailey was a leader in pediatric heart care. Source: (

Dr. Bailey's Radical Idea

Dr. Leonard Bailey was a pioneer in pediatric open-heart surgery. He had even performed heart transplants on children, though when Baby Fae was born, no one had yet performed a successful infant heart transplant. The first human heart transplant occurred decades earlier in 1967, but infant heart transplants posed a number of challenges. The blood vessels surrounding infants' hearts are minute, for one thing. Additionally, the supply of infant donor hearts is typically low. That's pretty good news overall, but it meant there were no infant hearts available when Baby Fae was born. Dr. Bailey had to think outside the box ... and outside the human body.