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Transplanting Morals Into Law

Michael Mansfield, QC

What I have to say comes in the wake of a revitalising election result and the judgement in the McLibel case.

There are already some early signs of a preparedness to treat both animals and the environment with the respect they deserve - a total ban on handguns, foxhunting and Tony Blair's exhortations at the recent Earth Summit.

The McLibel trial has received minimal coverage outside the United Kingdom and only begun to hit the headlines in the latter stages of the case. Two young people - Helen Steel and Dave Morris - literally fought a David and Goliath battle against McDonalds. It was the longest trial in British history - 313 days - and they defended themselves without resources, legal aid or legal representation and, more fundamentally still, without being allowed to do so before a jury. Instead, the public has become their adjudicators, and they have achieved a remarkable moral victory for steadfastly placing global and moral welfare issues upon the agenda. They challenged McDonalds not only through their leaflets but also through their own expert witnesses on a broad range of topics:

i) Nutrition, diet and health.
ii) Environmental desecration, particularly of South American rainforests.
iii) Exploitation of children through advertising.
iv) Cruelty to animals in the food chain.
v) Exploitation of the workforce both by conditions and pay.
vi) Waste and packaging pollution.

Their principled stand has been an example to us all and especially a younger generation, so bereft of moral leadership under years of a sleaze-ridden Conservative Government. Their battle is currently emulated by other environmentalists who have dug themselves into the ground in Manchester to prevent more damage being wreaked by extended runways at Manchester Airport. They are all in the fine tradition of Ken Sara-Wiwa in Nigeria and Chico Mendes in the Amazon.

It is for these reasons that I do not intend to spend time outlining how those who engage in xenotransplantation may be sued for negligence. Clearly all those involved in the chain may be liable, depending on which is found to be the weak link of causation. My position relates to the origin of DLRM - namely I am opposed to animal experimentation. We are not entitled to save our bacon at the expense of the animals!

May I expand on my reasoning in this way:

I once went to Philadelphia. I met a man, a poor man from the sprawling and impoverished ghetto which girdles the city. His kidneys had ceased to function: But he was lucky. Under the provisions of Medicaid, the rudimentary health provision made available to the poor of that country, he qualified for a kidney transplant at the expense of the state. And dutifully it fulfilled its obligation.

Charlie was cut open and his kidneys replaced with those from another deceased human, and he was then sent back to his cockroach-ridden public housing to die. Medicaid paid for the surgery, but it would not pay for the daily and very expensive drugs necessary to combat rejection. No doctors protested, there were no public protests, and only a charitable appeal in his neighbourhood raised the money to keep Charlie alive. What relevance does xenotransplantation have to Charlie? Absolutely none, nor for the vast mass of humanity whose right to life on this planet is becoming ever more tenuous.

There are many objections to the use of other species as donor banks to prolong individual human life, and the easiest to articulate is the practical one. In order to make a pig's organs, for example, less prone to rejection, it is first necessary to redesign the animal by introducing human genes into its DNA. This is arrogantly carried out after mapping only a few hundred of the pig's many millions of genes. We have no idea what will be the long-term consequences of such interference or how one gene might interact with another. We are creating novel life forms, not as a result of slow and selective evolution where natural selection can weed out the failures, but overnight. And the results are to be grafted into the most intimate parts of the human body.

There are many diseases which are common to both pigs and humans, and there are others, some fatal, which afflict only pigs. To assume that such viruses, which do not affect humans in the setting of an intensive pig unit, will be equally benign when tucked up cosily in the warmth of our insides, is a triumph of hope. No one knows how human viruses will react with these alien invaders, and one possible outcome is a fusion, creating completely new viruses - possibly benign but equally possibly virulent and deadly.

Long before genetic engineering brought with it the ability to splice and weld, there was a history of viral "pick and mix" experimentation in laboratories. The publication Biohazard Report catalogues the numerous occasions when accidental releases have taken place and resulted in the loss of human life. There is strong evidence that AIDS itself may have been a product of such cavalier science.

But that's the easy part of the objection, because it deals with threats to our lives and therefore frightens us. Producing special pigs and keeping them in sterile settings, probably stainless-steel cages devoid of all stimulation, threatens no one.

Cutting off the uteruses of sows so that their piglets can be born directly into sterile bubbles thus reducing the risk of infection by dangerous pathogens, also threatens no one. Reciting the list of sickening experimental failures may also not sway anyone - baboons receiving pig hearts, pig kidneys transplanted into the necks of 15 mongrel dogs, rabbit hearts transplanted into the necks of 17 new-born piglets. It could be construed as a complaint about failure rather than a moral objection.

Xenotransplantation is being propelled in order to build careers and produce profit - the two motivations which have done more than anything else to pervert advances in human health. It is done, we are told, to progress human knowledge and save human life. In fact, the ethos which lies behind it has cost human life - millions and millions of human lives.

The great advances in the public's health came about, not through medicine or surgery, but through provision of clean water, decent housing and sewerage to carry away their waste. It is the lack of these same basic provisions which are still costing millions of lives worldwide. The 12 million children who die annually from hunger-related diseases do not need their organs transplanted, they need food. The one million who die for want of a 9p measles vaccine - total cost less than the pay rise of a pharmaceutical company's chief executive - do not need pig hearts, they need a sense of concern and compassion. Even those countries which based their health systems around fairness and equality can see them being whittled away as the market dominates.

Personal responsibility has been replaced by artificial rights - the right of those who can afford it to have whatever they choose and they need do nothing in return. Just consider the ludicrous scenario is which xenotransplantation prospers. Both heart disease and cancer are largely diet related. The more meat you eat the more likely you are to suffer from both. Try to communicate this fact, and the vested interests of the meat industry will deny and confuse, sow doubt and confusion, using exactly those same tactics which the tobacco industry has polished to perfection over the decades.

So, you can carry on eating pigs as heartily as you like, and when the poor creatures finally destroy your heart, we'll chop the heart out of another pig and replace it. Despite their extraordinarily high intelligence, these animals are denied all compassion while they are alive but are considered genetically close enough to possibly save our lives.

Those promoting xenotransplantation remind me of the greedy, fat little boy in Willie Wonker's Chocolate Factory. His only concern was to stuff himself with the available goodies until he was extremely sick. We could all be made extremely sick by the arrogance and myopia of those who are literally playing games with creation. Even if they succeed, their discoveries will be totally irrelevant to the majority of the people of the earth.

There is no doubt that the planet is at a crossroads, and we are presented with choices for survival. They include the marshalling of resources, controlling the burgeoning population, adopting a diet which is not based on extreme cruelty and does not strip the environment bare, and working out how to redistribute the wealth that we in the west have amassed.
Unless we begin to divert resources away from such irrelevancies as xenotransplantation to the real health issues facing us, we will all end up like Charlie - dying, because nobody cares.

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