Every year thousands of people die
who would have lived if it weren’t for the continuing shortage of organs
available for transplantation. Scientists around the world are working
to solve this shortage, but animal rights activists are opposing them
at every turn.
The most viable short term solution
is Xenotransplantation — genetically engineered organs from animals that
can be transplanted into human beings. Currently most such development
is concentrated on developing pig organs as a possible source for human
transplantation. Biotech companies are working at genetically modifying
the pig organs so the human recipient is less likely to reject them.
Animal rights activists, of course,
hate the idea of using pigs to do something as frivolous as save a human
life. Mike Baker, head of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection,
said developments in xenotransplantation represent “a very backward
step in terms of animal welfare [that] could pose serious health risks
to the human population.”
A group calling itself the Campaign for Responsible Transplantation is already circulating a petition to ban
all animal-to-human transplantation and environmental groups are also
jumping on the bandwagon, citing the possibility of a deadly virus passing
from animals to human beings in the transplantation process.
While the viral issue is certainly
a serious one, it is being addressed by regulatory agencies in the United
States and Europe responsible for approval of medical products. In both
the United States and Europe, for example, regulatory agencies are developing
strict monitoring protocols for tracking all infections and diseases contracted
by human recipients of xenotransplantation in addition to the rigorous
safeguards to minimize the risk of a crossover disease in the first place.
Unfortunately, the animal rights and environmental activists
seem unlikely to be satisfied with anything but zero risk, which of course
is impossible in any human endeavor (after all, the risk that a deadly
disease will cross over from pigs to human beings just from normal contact
on farms is not zero as the various influenza pandemics are evidence of,
though there are ways to minimize the risk).
Xenotransplantation is simply the
best chance we have to save thousands of lives around the world. Lets
hope animal rights activist and environmentalist extremists don’t close
off this important area of research before scientists even get to explore
“Animal organs could save people if the body would accept them,”
Lauran Neergaard, The Associated Press, September 17, 1998.
“Biotech regulations: paving the way for British xenotransplantations,”
Nigel Williams, Science Magazine, August 6, 1998.
Campaign for Responsible Transplantation petition, http://host.envirolink.org/crt/petition.pl