Why Create Drugs Like Viagra?

There’s a common argument offered by both animal rights activists and other critics of the pharmaceutical industry which goes something like this: companies spend too much money (and kill too many animals) creating drugs like Viagra. Back in 1999, for example, animal rights activists made a big deal out of the fact that dogs had been used in Viagra research. As the BBC reported,

But the RSPCA said it planned to look into the experiment to determine whether they had inflicted unnecessary pain, while the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection promised to lobby the Home Office to find out why it permitted the tests.

Sarah Kite, of the BUAV, said: “We are appalled that experiments of this nature have been carried out.

“These beagles have been mutilated in grotesque experiments for a drug which has no life-saving use.”

Kite should have known better than to make such a ridiculous claim. Drug compounds developed to treat one disorder routinely turn out, after further research and often through post-approval clinical experience, to have uses well beyond the purpose they were originally marketed for. And that appears to be happening with Viagra as well.

Doctors at the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital are, in fact, using Viagra to save the lives of newborns who suffer from pulmonary hypertension. Pulmonary hypertension can cause heart failure and death. It can be treated with nitric oxide, but as Vanderbilt Dr. Don Moore, MD, notes, only for short periods of time effectively as a stop gap measure. Moreover nitric oxide treatment is expensive.

Viagra is already being tested in adults to see if it can be used as a treatment for pulmonary hypertension, and doctors at Vanderbilt have begun using it in infants who have life threatening hypertension. The number of infants who have been treated at Vanderbilt and elsewhere is still small, and there are risks with using Viagra in infants, but so far it appears that Kite could not have been more wrong in claiming that Viagra has “no life-saving use.” (I.e., business as usual for BUAV).


Vanderbilt doctors use Viagra to treat infants with pulmonary hypertension. Press Release, Carole Bartoo, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, April 19, 2004.

Dogs mutilated in Viagra test. BBC, March 12, 1999.

It Doesn't Work Perfectly Yet, So Lets Ban Cloning

Dolly, the cloned sheep, has arthritis. This is apparently big news.

It is big news, of course, because of fears that the arthritis might have something to do with the cloning process. We’ve already learned that many cloned animals have serious health problems, so perhaps Dolly’s predicament might be due to being a cloned animal. Or it could be that Dolly simply is one of a small number of sheep who suffer from arthritis young.

As researcher Ian Wilmut told BBC Radio 4, “There is no way of knowing if this is down to cloning or whether it is a coincidence. We will never know the answer to that question.”

Wilmut has called for an independent study to examine the health of cloned animals. Animal rights activist, of course, have a different response — ban animal cloning.

Sarah Kite of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection told the BBC,

Scientists seem to think that they can mix and match animals’ genes in a controlled way, but actually the control is an illusion. No one yet understands exactly how genes work or what the effects will be on the innocent animals who are subjected to biotechnology.

By all means, since scientists don’t understand exactly how genes work, it seems obvious that the only logical conclusion is that research into how genes work should be banned. How did everyone in the scientific community miss the sort of simple logic that BUAV grasps so easily?

Joyce D’Silva of Compassion in World Farming chimes in as well, telling the BBC,

I think the hundreds and hundreds of other cloned lambs who have been born and had malformed hearts, lungs or kidneys. They have struggled to survive for a few days and then had their lungs filled with fluid and gasped their way to death or had to be put out of their misery by their creators. That is the real story of cloning.

Note, however, that Compassion in World Farming is on the record as being opposed to animal cloning even if researchers figure out how to avoid the problems seen with some cloned animals. The group’s web site says of cloning,

Even if cloning becomes more efficient, CIWF believes it is likely to be a welfare disaster for farm animals. Selective breeding has had a bad record for welfare. Herds of identical cloned animals would lead to even greater loss of genetic diversity with unforeseeable results in terms of illness for the animals. Transgenic pigs used for xenotransplants would have to live their lives in unnatural, sterile conditions. CIWF believes that the suffering involved in cloning and genetically engineering cannot be justified by the benefits claimed by the scientists and multinational biotechnology companies.

In other words, even if researchers succeed in creating a cloned pig whose heart can be successfully transplanted into a human being suffering from heart disease, “the suffering involved … cannot be justified by the benefits.”


Dolly’s arthrities sparks cloning row. The BBC, January 4, 2002.

Genetic Engineering Campaign. Compassion in World Farming, Factsheet, June 28, 2001