FRONTLINE presents Organ Farm
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Lyons is director of Uncaged Campaigns, an animal rights organization in the UK. He is a specialist in the ethics of xenotransplantation, which he is currently researching for his PhD. His work has appeared in the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, the Medical Law Review and in a textbook for law students.

background to this interview
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 experiments.

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 situation."
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 people?

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 happen.

In five years, some 500 primates and probably thousands of pigs have been killed in the process of this research, and some of them have suffered severely. . . 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 transplants.

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 us.

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 experiments?

. . . 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, it's barbaric.

. . . 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 food?

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 their flesh.

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 objective way.

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.

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