Earlier this month the Associated Press reported that South Korea was preparing to spend $73 million to kick start an effort to mass produce organs for transplant from pigs into human beings. The South Korean project will included 90 researchers and aims to produce pigs whose organs can be transplanted into human beings by 2010.
Dan Lyons of Uncaged Campaigns quickly put out a press release opposing the plan under the headline, “Korean pig organ transplant plans sparks international alarm.” From reading the press release, however, the “international alarm” appears to be limited to Lyons perhaps being outraged about it while on an intercontinental flight.
In the press release, Lyons is quoted as saying,
Pig-to-primate organ transplant experimentation has caused controversy across Europe and North America because of the appalling cruelty involved and the danger of creating a new viral epidemic. With South KoreaÂ’s terrible animal welfare reputation Â– symbolised by dog eating – and the recent lethal SARS outbreak in the Far East, this announcement will ring alarm bells around the world.
What is the point of Britain refusing to allow cross-species transplants if they take place in countries with no regulation? Viruses donÂ’t need passports.
Well, it should ring alarm bells in Great Britain — if it remains a hostile venue for animal research, groundbreaking work such as on xenotransplantation will simply shift to Asia, leaving the UK at risk of falling permanently behind in biosciences research.
As far as pig-to-primate organ transplant experimentation causing controversy, at least in North America the only group that seems to really find this controversial are animal rights activists. Of course, by that standard the diet of 98 percent of North Americans “has caused controversy.”
Xenotransplantation is more like bioalchemy than biotechnology. Drug companies have sacrificed tens of millions of pounds and tens of thousands of innocent animals, only to find that the whole idea is a cruel deception. With 180 million years of evolution separating pigs from humans, and advances in stem cell technology and other alternatives, we urge the South Koreans to consider whether this is really a good investment.
Lyons, of course, neglects to mention that those advances in stem cell technology are do in large measure thanks to exactly the sort of basic animal research that Uncaged Campaigns opposes. Whether or not xenotransplantation will ever be a viable alternative to human organ transplants remains to be seen, but it is certainly much more likely to happen than seeing Lyons and his compatriots actually maintain a consistent, truthful position about animal research.
Korea to mass-produce pig organs for human transplants. Associated Press, June 1, 2004.