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"Infection Surveillance Proposals For Animal-To-Human Transplants Show That The Technology Is Too Hot To Handle", Says Ethics Report.

This week, xenotransplantation pressure group Uncaged Campaigns has submitted comments on the "Draft Report of the Infection Surveillance Steering Group of the United Kingdom Xenotransplantation Interim Regulatory Authority (UKXIRA)."

The submission analyses the proposals contained in the draft document, and concludes that the UKXIRA should "act in accordance with the bioethical framework that underlies its regulation of xenotransplantation, and recommend to the Secretary of State for Health that the technology be outlawed immediately."

Dan Lyons, author of the submission, said:

"I was fairly sceptical about the report before I read it, and having studied the report closely I’m extremely concerned because it shows that dealing with the threat of viruses from pig tissue will, in practice, be impossible. There are huge, gaping holes in the proposed surveillance regime, not least the fact that it is not legally enforceable. On the other hand, it is so complex and draconian that recipients and their contacts will find it impossible to comply voluntarily.

"With the best will in the world it would be impossible to claim with any certainty that any virus outbreak that emerges from xenotransplantation could be controlled and contained. The real value of the draft report is that it shows that the whole enterprise is intrinsically dangerous and threatens to breach basic human rights.

"The immense financial and social costs of these proposals, and the fact that they will still not safeguard public health, means that when the regulators apply the cost/benefit analysis that determines whether xenotransplantation should go-ahead, they should decide to ban the technology."

For full copies of the eight page report, interviews and comments, please contact Dan Lyons on 0114 2530020 or 07990 584158 or click here to find it in the xenotransplantation section of this site. See below for a summary of the conclusions of the report.

Summary of conclusions: 

  • In practice, no xenotransplantation infection surveillance programme can be  expected to provide adequate safeguards to public health. (See Section 3 of main report.)
  • In practice, recipients of xenografts will be unable to fulfil all the necessary conditions "consistently and for life."
  • The likelihood of close contacts, especially future contacts, complying with necessary requirements is even more remote.
  • Any success that xenografts might achieve will increase the chances of non-compliance and xenozoonosis because of complacency and the frequency of operation increasing the probability of a xenozoonotic event occurring.
  • Latent infections pose extreme difficulties for detection, control and treatment. Unknown viruses are similarly problematic.
  • The proposal to relax surveillance requirements in the event of routine xenotransplantation is incredible.
  • In practice, it will be difficult to obtain valid consent from recipients.
  • No proposals have yet been made to obtain consent from society in general, which is necessary given the social risks of xenotransplantation.
  • It would be impractical and a breach of basic individual human rights to enable society to protect itself from the threat of xenozoonosis by enforcing surveillance requirements through legislation. This is a very serious ethical and practical cost of xenotransplantation.
  • In practice, voluntary compliance with surveillance requirements by recipients and contacts is unreliable and inadequate as a safeguard to public health. (See page 6)
  • The cost of setting up and running the surveillance infrastructure will be prohibitive and not an effective allocation of scarce health care resources.
  • It is highly likely that human error will occur at various points in the surveillance infrastructure, further compromising public health.

This analysis of the document demonstrates quite clearly that on grounds of social cost alone, the xenotransplantation project should be abandoned and research into xenotransplantation stopped immediately. We believe that there are irrefutable arguments in favour of legislation for the purpose of banning xenotransplantation.

However, these social costs are not the only ones to be taken into account. The case against xenotransplantation proceeding is further strengthened when we take into account the suffering, exploitation and destruction of animals and incorporate these into our cost/benefit analysis. While some may argue that it is worth continuing to research xenotransplantation in the hope of overcoming its practical difficulties, to do so would not only be an example of wishful thinking, but it would also completely ignore the on-going suffering of animals inherent to such an approach. Such ignorance is unacceptable and contrary to the guiding ethical principles of the UKXIRA.

Therefore, we strongly urge the UKXIRA to act in accordance with the bioethical framework that should underlie its regulation of xenotransplantation, and recommend to the Secretary of State for Health that the technology be outlawed immediately.

Dan Lyons, Uncaged Campaigns (05/11/99)

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Uncaged 1993-2012: This is the archived website of Uncaged. All information correct at the time of archiving - November 2012.