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
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
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
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
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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