Thyroid disease – Hypothyroidism (low thyroid) – Part 5 of 5 – Rational treatment or cannibalism?

Image via Wikipedia At the end of the world as we know it, there is one other treatment option for hypothyroidism that I refrained from mentioning. I am not aware that...
The veins of the thyroid gland.
Image via Wikipedia

At the end of the world as we know it, there is one other treatment option for hypothyroidism that I refrained from mentioning.

I am not aware that this treatment is practiced anywhere in the world, though it is certainly a possibility.  The availability of animals with similarly functioning thyroid glands has obviated the need to consider this option in the past.

However, if both Synthroid and animal-derived thyroid products become unavailable, what about the use of human thyroid tissue?

My immediate reaction is revulsion.  It’s one thing to take dessicated bovine or porcine thyroid tissue, package a  little in sterilized capsules, then ingest it as thyroid hormone replacement therapy.

But could the same be done with human tissue?  I believe so.  At TEOTWAWI one would expect plenty of people would be dead or dying.  Harvesting cadaver thyroid glands, much like kidneys and hearts are harvested for transplantation, is a consideration.  If I were dying and my child needed my thyroid in order to live, I would gladly have them benefit from an organ my corpse could not use.

Is it cannabalism to take another person’s thyroid gland and ingest it a tiny bit at a time?  The Armour thyroid package insert states that the normal human thyroid gland contains about 200 mcg of levothyroxine (T4) and 15 mcg of liothyronine (T4) per gram of gland.  For most patients, then, about half a gram of (undessicated) human thyroid tissue would suffice as daily replacement therapy.  (Dessicated weight should be only about 0.1 gram or 100 mg, similar to Armour thyroid dosing.)

Is this different than a blood transfusion or kidney transplant?  It feels different, somehow.  Does the need for a therapy to stay alive make it acceptable and/or moral?  The next logical question is, would the need for calories and protein to remain alive make cannibalism (not murder) acceptable or moral?

If ingesting human thyroid tissue is not acceptable, another theoretical possibility might be isolating thyroid hormones from donated plasma.  Yet surely the technology to accomplish this is less likely to exist after an Armageddeon event than the ability to harvest animal thyroid tissue.

I include this final option for the sake of completeness, and leave the question of morality to the reader.  This is just one of many heartrending questions those who survive may have to face after their friends and loved ones have died.

For more answers to your thyroid questions, see HYPOTHYROIDISM – Answers for the End of the World.

Copyright © 2010 Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

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