Stealing Their Organs
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM

Patrick J. Battuello, In Behalf of Animals
February 2014

Currently, the number of transplant candidates far exceeds the number of available organs. But if more of us would become organ donors – and, while we’re at it, bequeath our bodies to research – harvesting in animal bodies would be unnecessary. Doing the right thing, for both us and them, is as easy as checking a box on our licenses.

They were attempting to produce marketable xenografts – hearts and kidneys in this case – for human use. In one set of experiments, genetically-modified (made more humanlike) pig hearts were grafted into the necks and abdomens of baboons. Necks and abdomens. In another, monkeys had their own kidneys removed and replaced with a lone pig kidney. In all, 49 baboons, 424 monkeys, and some 10,000 pigs were used.

“We have to be frank about this: We are exploiting these pigs.”
(Dr. David White, former director of research at Imutran in England)

“Generally speaking, our society and our government is at least giving the impression that it’s becoming more sensitive to the welfare needs of animals and we all hope that sensitivity and compassion will develop. But with xenotransplantation, it’s a sort of massive blow to that sense of progression. It’s a step into the Dark Ages. It may look really nice and scientific and clean, but in terms of what we’re actually doing to animals, it’s barbaric.”
(Dr. Dan Lyons, expert on British animal-research policy) 
 

In the late 1990s, Imutran – a subsidiary of Novartis, the pharmaceutical giant – conducted xenotransplantation experiments at the Huntingdon Life Sciences laboratories in England. They were attempting to produce marketable xenografts – hearts and kidneys in this case – for human use. In one set of experiments, genetically-modified (made more humanlike) pig hearts were grafted into the necks and abdomens of baboons. Necks and abdomens. In another, monkeys had their own kidneys removed and replaced with a lone pig kidney. In all, 49 baboons, 424 monkeys, and some 10,000 pigs were used.

organs xenotransplantation

In early 2000, the animal rights group Uncaged Campaigns received copies of the researchers’ logs. What follows are descriptions of the primates after surgery:

quiet and huddled…body and head tremors…large vomit in cage…exhibits discomfort when moving…no use of right arm…right arm badly swollen and bruised…skin broken and oozing blood…collapsed on cage floor…very laboured breathing…extreme difficulty trying to walk…holding neck…animal picking at transplant site

keeps holding area where transplanted heart is…yellow fluid seeping from site…animal showing obvious discomfort…uncoordinated limb spasms…retching and salivating…bloody discharge from penis…observed shivering…periodic severe tremors…extreme difficulty breathing, vocalising…died prior to sacrifice…sacrificed for humane reasons.

organs xenotransplantation

While some died from technical failures within 24 hours, most lingered for up to three months before succumbing to infection, rejection, or toxicity. Not one survived. After the disclosure, Imutran’s research was discontinued and moved to the U.S. In an interview with Frontline, Dr. Lyons recalls one of the subjects:

One of the most unfortunate animals had a piglet heart transplanted into his neck. …for several days he was holding the heart. It was swollen. It was seeping blood, it was seeping pus… He suffered from body tremors, vomiting, diarrhea. And the animal just sat there. I think living hell is really the only sort of real way you can get close to describing what it must be like to have been that animal in that situation.

organs xenotransplantation

Science, irrepressible science, will (if allowed) eventually work out the bugs, bringing these Frankensteinian parts to market. But to get there, Imutran-like experiments – both what they did and whom they did it to – are required. (Uncomfortably, the “whom” are animals at least as intelligent as our pet dogs, not to mention some of us.) What’s left, then, are the ethical questions, questions that cannot simply be deferred to the PhDs and politicians. Since they carve and cripple in our collective interest, each of us is accountable. So, how do we justify what happened to those pigs and primates? What and how many animals are to be sacrificed? How much suffering will we allow?

Fortunately, there is a way to render this particular technology obsolete before its time: Currently, the number of transplant candidates far exceeds the number of available organs. But if more of us would become organ donors – and, while we’re at it, bequeath our bodies to research – harvesting in animal bodies would be unnecessary. Doing the right thing, for both us and them, is as easy as checking a box on our licenses. Weighed against implanting a pig heart into the neck of a baboon, isn’t this the least we can do?


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