In May 2000 a stack of internal documents on pig to primate organ transplant
experiments in Britain was leaked to Uncaged. The experiments were financed
by Imutran, a leading xenotransplant company. Uncaged Campaigns published the
documents and its report on
them--"Diaries of Despair"--on the Internet, claiming the documents revealed
severe animal suffering, showed considerable lack of progress in Imutran's xeno
experiments and called on the British government to halt xenotransplant
Imutran subsequently obtained a British court injunction against Lyons and
Uncaged for breach of confidentiality and copyright violation. The documents
were removed from the Internet and Uncaged was prohibited from republishing or
discussing them. However, the British court order does allow Lyons to discuss
what was reported about the documents in one published, and highly
critical account by the British newspaper, the Daily Express,
which also obtained the leaked material. Thus, for example, in FRONTLINE's
program "Organ Farm," Lyons was able to talk about one of the experiments cited
by the Daily Express:
"One of the most unfortunate animals had a piglet heart transplanted
into his neck. It was a particularly disturbing example, I think, because for
several days he was holding the heart. It was swollen. It was seeping blood,
it was seeping pus as a result of the infections that often occur in the wound
site. 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
For the rest of his interview with FRONTLINE which follows (Note: Almost all of what is
published here was not in the broadcast), Lyons was confined to talking about general issues of
animal welfare and rights.
From your point of view, can animal experiments ever be justified?
I don't think that animal experiments can ever be justified, because basically,
what does animal experimentation involve? It involves the deliberate
infliction of pain, suffering and death on someone else. To me, that seems
straightforwardly wrong. That doesn't mean that I would necessarily value
animals more than human beings. I think that's important to note. But I think
it is important to realize that deliberate acts of violence are wrong, whether
it's to another human being or to any creature that can feel pain and that has
a basic will to live. And to distinguish between the two species in that
instance is unfair, and is a prejudice.
Do you accept though, that people could, and do, benefit from transplants,
and more people would benefit if there were a way to give transplants to more
It is true that transplants have offered some kind of benefit to human beings,
or to the human beings that have enjoyed successful transplant operations.
Obviously there are cases of that. Now, given the fact that we have successful
transplant operations, we owe that success to the clinical experience. When
the first human beings received organ transplants, the results were disastrous,
even though the previous animal research seemed to indicate a great level of
success. And the reason those first human beings that received transplanted
organs suffered was because things happened to them that weren't predicted from
the animal experiments. That's a fundamental point. Whenever you do an animal
experiment, you will never know, reliably, what will happen to a human being.
That's just a fundamental biological point. So the success that's been gained
in human transplants over the last 40 years has ultimately depended on human
experimentation. Whether we like it or not, that's the way medical advances
. . . Now, it might be possible for us to conduct more transplant operations
and that might, in turn, benefit human beings, and I think benefits are a good
thing. Having said that, I don't think being violent and abusive and murderous
is the right way to try and bring about benefits. However, it's not a zero-sum
equation. We can actually do more transplant operations if we improve the way
in which we obtain organs from human beings. Countries have adopted various
management systems and retrieval systems for human organs that have
significantly increased the number of organs that have been available for human
And that's got to be the way forward. A human organ is always going to be
infinitely more reliable, infinitely safer and infinitely more ethical than
incarcerating an animal, cutting it up and killing it and then transplanting
that non-human organ into a human being.
The human organ route has been relatively neglected compared to pig organs
because we give our organs freely; no one's making money out of it, generally
speaking, when we die and someone uses the organ. But a pig organ is a product
and, unfortunately, most medical research in the world at the moment is funded
and invested in by companies who want to make a return on it at the end of the
day. There's nothing wrong, necessarily, with commercial enterprises. But
when commercial enterprises involve violence and destruction, then I don't
think that can be justified.
The argument among the scientists is that animal experiments are justified,
because what you learn from the few animals you experiment with may well help
thousands of people in the future.
History shows that that's not the case. Over the last 20 years in the UK
alone, something like about 70 million animals have been killed in experiments.
You will never find even the most gung-ho pro-vivisectionist to claim that 70
million human lives have been saved as a result of that suffering and death
that's been inflicted on animals. So the numbers just don't add up.
But ultimately, in a sense, that point is beside the point. What's important
is: is it right to inflict pain and suffering on others? And I don't think it
is, no matter what the benefits. Look at, say, Nazi Germany and the
concentration camps. They conducted experiments on the inmates there, and,
ironically, the data that was gained from those experiments has entered the
scientific pantheon of knowledge. Most scientists acknowledge that those were
very useful experiments, but that didn't justify the fact that they were
conducted. So you can't justify violence in terms of benefit, especially
violence inflicted on innocent creatures who, in a sense, are innocent
bystanders in all this.
The other argument used by the medical researchers is, that even if animal
experiments fail, that doesn't mean you learned nothing.
No. When you do an animal experiment, you will gain data that's relevant to
that particular context. You will learn things about what happens when you do
this particular thing to this particular animal in that particular context.
The simplistic attitude is there in the scientists, who think that's relevant
to the human condition that you see.
The complexity of the natural world and biological organisms means that the
data that you gain from animal experiments in that context will never be safe,
reliable and useful in terms of its application to human beings. The reason
scientists do things to animals, or want to retain their privilege to inflict
these kind of things on animals is that . . . you can do all kinds of
procedures to animals -- invasive, deadly, torturous, traumatic things -- that
you're not normally allowed to do to human beings. So you can
get all kinds of data in that context. But the fact remains that that data
isn't relevant to the human condition, because of the complexities and the
differences that exist between the two.
What happened when knowledge surfaced about these experiments?
. . . The levels of suffering in one part of the experiments were so severe
that the Home Office, the government department here in the UK that decides on
issues of animal experiments, said, "No, you can't do this kind of procedure,
because it causes death, and it causes additional suffering."
[Editor's Note: Here, Lyons is referring to previously published
regulations in the UK on certain experimental procedures on animals. Although
the Home Office has copies of the leaked Imutran documents and is
investigating, it has issued no official statement on the matter.]
And the first time that any kind of meaningful limit was put on the limit of
suffering that Imutran could inflict on the animals, they announced that they
were going to stop the research in the UK and go to the USA and Canada to do
the research. The companies claim to be concerned about adhering to
regulations and that everything they do is monitored by the Home Office. But
they're prepared to go to wherever they can do the research. They're not
really, ultimately concerned about what suffering they inflict on animals.
Because of your beliefs, do you have to cut yourself off from the benefits
of modern medicine?
Not at all. First, most of the health benefits that we have today aren't a
result of medical technology. They're the result of social and environmental
measures -- improvements in nutrition, quite important improvements in housing,
in sanitation, et cetera. Since those improvements came about, new diseases
have developed, things like heart disease and cancer, which develop over
decades as a result of the kind of lifestyles that we lead and the pollutants
that we're surrounded with, et cetera, et cetera.
These kinds of ailments have proved to be far more resistant to medical
intervention, although a lot of them are potentially preventable. So the
health that we have isn't due to the products that drug companies try to sell
But, having said that, obviously there are effective drugs, and to an extent,
drugs that are safe in certain circumstances. But the usefulness of those
drugs has come about as a result of the human experience.
No matter what you learn in the animal experimentation situation, you're never
really going to know what's going to happen to a human being until the first
human being takes the drug, or goes through the procedure, or whatever.
Would you be able to accept a human transplant, even though that operation
would have been underpinned in its research stage by some kind of animal
. . . I would take a human organ transplant. I would certainly not take a pig
organ transplant. I think, in a sense, it's unfortunate because you will,
inevitably, be consuming the products of a company that has done tests on
animals. But the existence of these technologies doesn't depend on animal
experiments. And the other thing is that we can't turn the clock back and
erase the fact of those animal experiments, either.
So the important thing is, in a sense, to look to the future and try to develop
and encourage science to behave in a way that isn't violent towards animals in
their research. Luckily, animal experiments [aren't] the be-all and end-all of
medical research; it's only a fairly small minority of it. So it wouldn't
involve such a huge change in practices.
Do the survival times of any animal with any kind of cross-species organ
provide justification for what's being inflicted on them?
Well, in five years, some 500 primates and probably thousands of pigs have been
killed in the process of this research program, and some of them have suffered
severely at the same time.... So that's an awful lot of pain for not a great
deal of gain. And you've still got the problem then of whether the survival
times in the baboons and the monkeys are going to transplant to human beings.
And there are a lot of considerations that say that's not going to be the case,
because of the differences between primate and human immune and rejection
systems. And there are the different tolerances that each kind of animal has
for the drugs that will be needed to try to stop the rejection of the organ.
So it's a war of attrition. It's a sort of Battle of the Somme approach that
these scientists are taking. They're slaughtering these primates in the hope
that at some point they will generate some insight or some breakthrough that
will enable them to make big advances.
What about heart survival?
The heart survival times with the pig-to-baboon experiments were particularly
disastrous. The average survival is 11 days. I think that's one of the
reasons why that line of research has pretty much been abandoned. Very few
cross-species heart transplants have taken place in the last three years. I
think that's why the focus has shifted from hearts, which was where all the
publicity was four or five years ago, into the kidney area as well.
One of the reasons is that when the animal suffers from kidney failure, it's a
sort of longer, more gradual death, whereas if your heart fails, you're dead.
So in order to get permission to try this thing out on humans, if you put a pig
kidney into a human and it goes wrong, there are potential fallbacks in terms
of dialysis. I don't think it's a particularly satisfactory approach. But at
least there's a potential to save the unfortunate patients. With a pig heart
transplant, if that goes wrong, then the patient's dead, and there's absolutely
nothing that can be done.
So in terms of the PR thing and the ethics thing, it's slightly easier to get
the kidney trials done first, rather than the heart trial. The lack of success
with hearts and those problems with hearts is why the research is focused on
kidneys now, I think.
If this does go ahead and pigs are to be the donor animal, they are going to
have to live and be bred in kind of factory farming conditions.
Well, first of all, pigs are already suffering these kinds of conditions,
because of the breeding conditions that they're going through for the primate
experiments. But obviously, if it did become a clinical reality, then it would
expand massively, not just in this country, but across the world.
If the pigs are used, they will be kept in what's called "qualified
pathogen-free environments." They'll be kept in conditions that prevent, or at
least minimize some germs that can be identified and stopped from getting into
the pig herd. For the pigs, to all intents, it's a sterile condition. But you
can't control things like viruses and bacteria. So it's worse than factory
farming. The conditions that the pigs will be kept in would breach existing
animal welfare regulations.
One of the most important natural behaviors of pigs is rooting and foraging
behavior, and they spend about three-quarters of their waking lives rooting and
foraging for food. And obviously, in nature, they would have a virtually
infinitely complex environment to explore; they would have room to socialize
with their fellows.
They're at least as intelligent as dogs. We're talking about very, very
intelligent, sensitive animals. But none of this will be afforded to them if
they're being factory-farmed. Because of the needs for the relatively sterile
conditions, they won't have any of this rooting and foraging behavior.
And the suffering starts way before that, because in order to minimize the
bacteria that they'll be carrying, the piglets, or some of them at least, will
be born by cesarean section, rather than being born naturally and having a bond
with their mothers. The separation of the sow from the piglet normally
wouldn't be allowed, because it's very important for the piglet's health, both
psychologically and physically, for it to have an early relationship with its
mother. But it'll be taken away and reared in incubators. It will be a very,
very sterile production procedure.
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 a 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,
. . . The whole lives of these animals, the most sort of fundamental aspects of
their lives, has just been completely subverted to the needs of this industry.
It's such a brutal, very callous and cynical approach to take. Ultimately,
there is no regard for the animal's welfare at all. It's just treating them as
a production line, really, and any defective parts are disposed of. It's a
very callous attitude to take towards sentient feeling, living beings.
But when millions and millions and millions are already slaughtered for
Two wrongs don't make a right. . . . The use of pigs in agriculture probably
started 20,000 or 30,000 years ago. Presumably, they didn't have ethics
committees to consider whether that was right when it started. And now we have
this huge industry which has a momentum of its own and an interest of its own.
Many people have grown up to eat pigs, so that's a tradition, and the fact that
it exists has got nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of it. I think
it's quite clear that it's wrong to kill animals ultimately for the taste of
But the point is that we can't try and justify cross-species transplants by
reference to what already exists in area of killing, which has never really
been subjected to a serious ethical debate. Now we have the opportunity to
think about the ethics of cross-species transplants, and the use of pigs in
this procedure. So we need to think about it more deeply, rather than just
accepting existing practices blindly without any sort of thought about it.
But there's another aspect. The levels of suffering endured by pigs for
cross-species transplants will be, in many respects, much greater than the
conditions that pigs sometimes find themselves in farming. That's an important
thing to bear in mind. And there's the fact that it's adding a whole new area
of abuse and killing. Now we have the opportunity to step back and have an
informed debate -- and not just rely on traditions for justification for this
-- but to really think about it in a more intelligent and rational and
So you're saying that the use of animal organs as spare parts for humans
represents a significant change in the way we exploit animals?
Yes. Using animals in cross-species transplants would represent a completely
new form of animal exploitation. I think one of the most important measures of
human beings and human progress and of how civilized we are is how we treat
those who are less powerful than us. And really, obviously, animals are the
group who we have power over.
If cross-species transplants did become an established procedure, it we would
inevitably be intensifying and expanding the suffering and the killing that we
inflict on animals. So it's a fundamentally backward step in our moral
progress as a society and as a species. That's why it's so important that we
analyze what's going on and we think about whether, as a whole, this is really
something we ought to do. We have a chance now to look at this and think about
it, which isn't an opportunity we've had with other forms of abuse. So it's a
real opportunity for us to consider the rights and wrongs.
Does it almost take factory farming down to the cellular level?
It's an intensification of factory farming, really, because one of the
essential aspects of producing pig organs for transplants is that the pigs have
to be reared in virtually sterile conditions which curtail most of their
complex natural needs. And people need to remember that pigs are exceptionally
intelligent animals, they're considered to be at least as clever as dogs.
If we treated dogs like this, I think there would be an absolute outcry about
what's going on. As a society, we've become fairly sanitized to the
exploitation of pigs. But the fact remains that the government and the
companies concede that this will inevitably cause emotional, psychological, as
well as physical suffering to the pigs. So it's an intensification of the
suffering that we inflict on intelligent and sensitive animals.
Do you feel that cross-species transplants are going to focus a number of
issues in the public mind about the way we treat animal, issues that are long
overdue for proper consideration?
Cross-species transplants are a new area. It does give us this opportunity to
consider the way that our society uses animals, and some of the emerging
biotechnology. Cross-species transplants are just one area of potential animal
use that needs to be addressed. But there are other areas. And the use of
genetic engineering and biotechnology is the kind of new, completely unforeseen
area of animal use that gives us an opportunity to consider, to step back and
think, "Is inflicting suffering on animals and killing animals really a
justifiable and humane thing to do?"
The other areas that involve these new uses of animals include farming and
milking animals for proteins from their blood and their milk, and also getting
animals in agriculture to grow more quickly. There are already severe problems
with suffering in factory farming, and these will be intensified as producers
use genetic engineering to try to get even more meat and products from these
animals than is already the case.
The frightening thing is that the situation is horrific as it stands; but
things like cross-species transplantation and this whole range of genetic
technologies threatens to intensify an already violent and brutal situation.
So if ever there's a time for us to step back and think about this, now is the
time that it must be done.
home · four patients · the risks · animal welfare · the business · the regulators
discussion · faqs · video · chronology · interviews
synopsis · tapes & transcripts · press · credits · carlton's organ farm
FRONTLINE · pbs online · wgbh
web site copyright 1995-2014
WGBH educational foundation