Xenotransplantation is currently at the experimental stages on animal models and many problems still have to be overcome in the biomedical, immunological and ethical fields. Moreover, people's attitudes to xenotransplantation vary: surveys among intensive-care staff have revealed negative opinions, while the general public and students seem to be more positive. Little is known about the influence of schooling and the choice of university faculty on attitudes to xenotransplantation. The aims of this study were: (i) to evaluate university students' attitudes to xenotransplantation; (ii) to investigate any socio-demographic, religious and educational determinants behind students' opinions on xenotransplantation. University undergraduates on five different courses were surveyed at Padua University. A 24-item questionnaire was distributed to students at the end of lectures and completed anonymously immediately after its distribution. No information was given to students beforehand.
Statistical analysis: chi-squared, Pearson's test; P-values <0.05 were considered significant. A total of 585 of 602 (97.2%) students completed the questionnaire (132 males, 453 females, mean age 20.4, range 19 to 43 yr). They were on courses in Medicine (33.85%), Agriculture (5.98%), Veterinary Medicine (11.45%), Psychology (18.46%) and Educational Sciences (30.26%). As for their previous schooling, they came from classical or scientific high school (58.3%), technical college (14.7%), language college (6.3%), teacher training college (11.9%) or others (8.8%). Concerning their religious beliefs, 83% were Catholics, and 56.2% defined themselves as practising Catholics. Eighty-eight percentage of the students knew of the possibility of animal organs being transplanted into humans and 77.9% of them approved of this idea. When grouped according to gender and education, a higher proportion of students approving of xenotransplantation were male (P = 0.017) and had attended classical or scientific high school (P = 0.011). Disapproval for moral, ethical or religious reasons was higher among practising than among non-practising Catholics; the latter rejected xenotransplantation more for immunological and infectious reasons (P = 0.014). As for the type of university course, a higher proportion of students approving of xenotransplantation attended science courses (Veterinary Medicine, Agriculture and Medicine vs. Educational Sciences and Psychology) (P = 0.013). University students generally approved of xenotransplantation. Male gender and a high-school education were associated with a greater acceptance of xenotransplantation. Practising vs. non-practising Catholics reported significantly different reasons for any disapproval of xenotransplantation. The choice of a science rather than an arts faculty at university was more strongly associated with a positive opinion on xenotransplantation.