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discussionFRONTLINE presents Organ Farm
an isolated piglet and a pig operation
join the discussion: What are your views on scientists efforts to develop pig-to-human organ transplants? home
four patients
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FRONTLINE values viewers' response and we read all letters. Due to volume, we regret we cannot publish every letter; we publish as many as we can which reflect proportionally the range of views. Short letters are more likely to be published, and those with all capital letters, less likely. All letters are subject to editing for length and clarity.


After watching your insightful program on 'organ farming', I found myself in great mental debate about this highly controversial subject. It seems to boil down to one dilema: quality of life, or dignity of death?

A lot fewer animals would be put through such suffering if we as a culture had a better understanding and maturity about death. The ethics involved in this situation are complex- but I can't help thinking "what makes me more important then a baboons life"? Animals kill mostly for their own survival; we have developed this act into a sport of liesure, a need for science, a pragmatic medical fact, and an industrial and economic opportunity.

I have willingly volenteered for drug studies for medical research to make ends meet through college. I have an idea of how a pig might feel if it were aware of what was going on. I helped to propel medical science by being a guinea pig of sorts- but my organs are still in tact. Since it is possible to talk with the great apes(koko and sign language) maybe it would be a good idea for us to ask her what her oppinions on this subject are.

Yet I still keep coming back to the question: why is death so feared and reviled in our society that we would kill everything else just to avoid it for a few moments, months years etc? Are there alternatives to organ farming? Are we developing sccience while turning an apathetic eye to the ethics involved? Is our life and limb so valuable and the rest of the world so expendable that we would cross that line? If you can please help me to sort these things out with your responces.

I think that if given the choice to live with a baboon heart of die with my own- I would probably opt for death and avoid the payment of baboon karma.

Randy Burks
s.l.c., ut


Thank you for the excellent program on xenotransplantation. I am sympathetic toward the patients in need of transplants, the animals sacrificed as "donors", and all those concerned with the public health risks.

The potential profitability which is motivating xenotransplantation research, despite its costs and risks, hinges on transplantation becoming more or less routine in the future. This is yet another example of misguided health care efforts in the United States.

The majority of strokes and vital organ failures are preventable, resulting from tobacco use, alcohol abuse, and/or poorly controlled blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetes. If we, as a society, became wise enough to shift our health care resources away from heroic treatment techniques and toward prevention, while also increasing the number of PEOPLE registered as organ donors and continuing research into the use of human stem cells, then xenotransplantation would likely never become profitable or useful.

Weighing the benefits of xenotransplantation against its costs and risks is difficult, to say the least. It is, however, a dilemma we need not be facing.

Bradley Krall
vancouver, wa


Once again, I was very impressed by your show. I don't know of another news show on television that is as honest and upfront with ALL the issues. Granted, I was disturbed greatly on a number of levels, but I was glad that you aired so much valuable information, and allowed all sides to share their views.

The only question I have is "Why are we not spending our tax dollars on growing human organs, instead of torturing intelligent animals for what's really a stop-gap solution???".

I also agree with another one of your viewers who mentioned the fact that MOST (not all) of these transplant victims COULD have avoided the need for a transplant had they eaten better, not smoked, not consumed alcohol to access, etc. This country seems to focus on CURING rather than PREVENTING.

Rebecca Smith
san diego, ca


If Salk, Pasteur, or any of the other groundbreaking men of our time, who so changed medicine, had to deal with today's media scrutiny, protest groups, overzealous FDA officials, etc., we probably would still have massive Polio outbreaks and wouldn't be able to drink the milk!

These scientists are not evil. I believe the vast majority have good intentions and need to work with little restriction in order to promote reasonable progress. I hate seeing animals die in the name of science, but in this case, the promise is so great we need to push on with vigor.

Gary Mellen
sanford, fl


I consider your show to be the best thing on television and you keep on proving that with every new report.

This program clearly demonstrates the moral ambiguity that will only increase as we delve further into the "genetic age". I dont think that even the most strident animal rights supporter could help but feel compassion for the patients awaiting compatible organ transplants. It would also be difficult for persons that dismiss animals rights supporters as "wackos" not to feel unease at the sight of pigs and primates on the operating table about to become casualties in the battle to extend human life. But to me the most disturbing aspect of the story was in the subtext. The companies that are developing these new genetic technologies put forth that they are concerned above all with human welfare. Of course, we all know that their ultimate interest is in the immense profits that success in this endeavor might bring. They assure us about the remoteness of the risks associated with their research, but can we trust them?

The companies that promote GM foods assured us that there was no danger involved and that they were taking all action to ensure the safety of the public. Then last fall the STARLINK corn debacle showed us that they couldn't even control the risks associated with the distribution of their products, much less the possible risks of the processes of genetic manipulation itself. By the way, How about a story on that?

Kraig Gardner
ellensburg , wa


I am an Animal Science major with a strong background in genetics, and a passion for pigs. I was very pleased to see the program and with the overall content of the educational piece. I have been following the transgenetic outbreaks in science papers and journals, so I have some background.

Pigs are a wonderful gift. They have been used for many purposes. Giving the gift of life is the ultimate pleasure. I have delieved many litters of pigs, and watch each and ever one of them reach market weight in as little as five months. Understanding and learning about what an individual pig can do for medicine is wonderful and completly exciting. I encourage the research to continue, for new ideas and methods are always needed, and pigs are creative and awesome creatures. I wish I could be doing my studies working on a project like this one.

Crystal G.
fresno, ca


Why is the U.S. allowing xenotransplantation when the potential risk of cross-species viruses could reek havoc on the public?

At present these biotransgenic researchers are operating in very tightly controlled and closed environments with just a few patients. But the goal of the biotech companies and drug companies funding this research is to have a production line set-up where we'd have sterile pig centers close to hospitals carrying out thousands of xeontransplant operations. They would have to have a large volume so the biotech companies involved could make a profit. They have already invested millions of dollars trying to create 'the perfect pig specimen' for more than twenty years.

But if and when assembly-line cross-species organ transplants are carried out on a wide scale, they cannot be controlled or monitored for all the potential risks involved. We are already aware that viruses could be a threat but what about things like the foreign proteins which were discovered in the brains of 'mad cows,' the result of human meddle. Half the time we really don't know what we're creating. It is frustrating that the people who need organ transplants are sold on xeontransplantation (when a suitable human donor is not available) because we don't have better alternatives.

I would like to know who is going to pay for all this? The operation, the drugs, the monitoring and the lifelong follow-up. We have more than 40 million Americans without health insurance and those that do have health insurance watch their premiums go up all the time.

This whole xeontransplantation business is the wrong research path to better medicine. There are more sane, more humane, more cost effective methods and avenues. For instance, invitro and maybe cloning our own cells for our own spare parts. Prevention of disease through better lifestyles and good nutrition is not emphasized enough in our culture. In the end we all have to die, it's a natural part of life and at some point we need to die with dignity. The rest of the planet with all its wonderous life-forms has not evolved over millions of years just for the benefit of man. We are just another part of the delicate and instricate web of life. Sincerely, Wm. M. Dotson

William Dotson
anchorage, alaska


So why don't we have an outcry over the millions of animals slaughtered to feed humans every year. How many of you will have "Pig" with your morning meal tomorrow? As long as man views animals, like the Pig, as food how can we complain when they are used for research. We have never respected animals therefore I do not see the difference in killing them for their organs or for their bacon.

Perhaps the problem is that we, by nature, are the most effective parasite this planet has ever produced. We consume everything in our path and contribute little in return. The issue is the same weather its pigs, baboons or the rain forest. We dont care what we destroy if there is a buck in it, just ask George W.

We live in the most beautiful place in the known universe and we are slowly killing it, one Pig at a time, one tree at a time, one barrel of oil at a time or one inner city kid at a time. At some point we will not be able to sustain the current population growth and will have to choose between Pigs or more humans. I choose Pigs! At least their shit is useful.

kent , wa


It seems all too ironic to me that the people who more often are in need of these transplants are the same people who over-indulge themselves in meat and dairy products. If people want to live longer, healthier lives then they should learn how to control their eating habits and maybe live a longer, healthier life.. naturally.

It made me so sad and I cried when I saw the piglets in the confinement stall with their mother.. they seemed so content.. so full of life. Unaware that the only reason they exist is soley to die. Thank you for exposing this in all aspects. Please continue to keep the public educated and aware of the threat here.

Elisabeth Hallstein
shakopee, mn


I am a 33year-old female who has recieved 2 transplants and I am currently waiting on a third. I have lupus and although most research shows that the disease won't recur in a transplant, it has on me.

I watched your show and I was fascinated that research has gone so far. It is cruel to think of the animals being killed for organs, but I live with the hope everyday that I will recieve a new kidney. That means I just hope someone will DIE. For that not to happen, I would gladly recieve a pig kidney- if it meant no one would have too die for me. I hate living on dialysis- its painful, the side-effects are bad, and it really isn't much of a life.

I want too thank you for giving me and others like me waiting for someone to die so we can recieve a transplant a glimpse of hope for the future.

Stacey Fowler
union city, tennessee


Most people seem to be upset over animal testing and how animals suffer etc. in this research. OK, animal testing is ugly and upsetting. I guess your opinion on the morality depends on whether your child or spouse's life may be saved by this sort of research.

They all missed the part MOST up setting for me personally and potentially disastrous for ALL of us. The possibility of pig viruses crossing into the human population. This by far is the greatest risk over the long term to every person on this planet.

The Britts were RIGHT to ban these transplants. If the possibility exists for ANY pig viruses to cross over to humans, you CANNOT do the transplants! If the supposedly virus free pigs prove to be completely free of any viruses. Then you have something that might prove useful and worth additional research. I am not opposed to the research and development of these sort of transplants the benefits would be astounding. However, implanting organs or tissues known to contain viruses that may or may not infect humans in the future is NOT acceptable! Would you install a computer program known to contain viruses onto your computer? I think not, that would be a foolish thing to do but we have already done exactly that with virus infected organs and people! This is simply not acceptable!

Jim Bartholomew
columbia, sc


I was shocked by your program, particularly the way the scientist spoke about the process. For example: "the pig serves as an incubator" - they speak of this living creature like it is a machine solely designed to serve humans. There is a major underlying ethical question here: is our one species so important and superior to all other living creatures that we can manipulate and use them any way we choose?

We are already destroying habitat worldwide, leading to the destruction of thousands of other species. Now, we are manipulating the very strands of life to save a handful of human lives. I see so much of this activity based on a fundamental view that death is unacceptable. We all die that is part of life, as sad and tragic and horrible as that reality is. We are creating risks to the rest of humanity and committing significant injustices to other living things in our own denial of mortality.

arlington, ma


Thanks very much for another even-handed, thought-provoking documentary on a subject of critical importance sadly absent from the commercial networks.

For years I have been troubled by genetic-engineering research and development on three levels. First, by the utter sacrilege towards the rest of Creation. I do not consider myself a religious 'fundamentalist' or 'fanatic'. I am simply a believer in God, as the ultimate Creator of the miracle of Life in all its wonderous forms. I believe we are a creature among fellow creatures within this miracle and that we owe our Creator our deepest gratitude and our fellow creatures respect. The argument that 'for thousands of years we have manipulated the genetic composition of plants and animals through selective breeding' is faulty because it ignores the difference in practice. In selective breeding we have chosen particular plant and animal individuals for their size, appearance, taste and other characteristics, and given these individuals greater opportunities to reproduce. We have done this, until the last couple of generations, while living with these individual plants and animals, raising them, feeding them, caring for them, becoming attached to them and yes even killing them as part of our everyday lives. We could not, until the very recent rise of massive, industrial farming, ignore their fellow creature-hood.

The second way genetic engineering has disturbed me is the combination of secrecy and bullying that the researchers, corporations and governments have subjected the rest of us to. For years, this research has been conducted largely with both alumni and taxpayer money without any serious, open, citizen-wide discussion. Now, those who are conducting the research and those who are poised to profit enormously from it tell the rest of us that it is 'too late', 'the genie's out of the bottle', 'you can't stop progress', etc. At the same time, the FDA has so far failed to require the labeling of products containing genetically-engineered organisms. Both the secrecy and the appeal to some unstoppable technological steamroller are fundamentally anti-democratic.

The third way I find this technology and industry disturbing is that its proponents promise us that it will solve a number of important problems without the efforts of the vast majority of us. In this way it blocks our common moral progress. Is the plight of those waiting for organ transplants a serious problem? Absolutely. Is there an alternative to genetically engineering pigs, cloning them and 'harvesting' their organs? Yes, but it requires widespread popular movements a) to donate organs at death, and b) to reconsider prolonging the lives of the very old and sick at any cost. Is the question of how humanity will continue to feed itself as our numbers continue to reach unprecedented levels a critical challenge? Absolutely. Is there an alternative to genetically engineering and/or cloning the plant and animal species who have supported us for millenia? Yes, but it requires widespread popular movements across the globe to a) slow the loss of farmland to new construction; b) change priorities from non-nutritious and export crops to nutritious crops for domestic consumption; c) patronize farmers who practice the most sustainable farming methods; d) develop a new generation of farmers, as one of the highest human callings.

The greatest gift of genetic engineering would be that it spurs large and growing numbers to become conscious of these real challenges and to act on them.

Nick Shorr
winston-salem, nc


Very importative piece but I must say we humans should leave well enough alone. If a 20 year old person needs a new liver, maybe they weren't meant to be alive any longer.

When are humans going to stop playing god and let things be as they are meant to be. I feel it isn't our "right" to subject other living beings to such disgrace and inhumane treatment and living conditions just to keep a human alive a longer period. We all die evidently - we MUST all die! Lets die when our bodies tell us to. The planet is being destroyed by over population of human beings. Lets stop prolonging our lives and let be what will be.

las vegas, nevada


I was so upset by the images that I saw on your program on March 27, I wrote you a scathing e-mail protesting the images, that I cannot get out of my mind. But after PETA informed me that this experimentation has the sanction of the FDA and the DHHA. I proceeded to begin a letter writing campaign. Where are they getting the "disposable" primates anyway?

Although I was not able to watch the entire program because it was making me sick to see such cruelty, I am now glad for your program (as I always am) for putting this barbaric practice into the public conscience and hopefully an outcry by myself and others will be able to stop this.

Kathleen Splaine
ronkonkoma, ny


I watched this show 3 days ago and cannot get it out of my mind. Your very balanced story on xenotransplants was impressive, depressing and horrifying.

"First do no harm". Don't doctors realize that this means to all of our relations. My heart goes out to the families and people in need of transplants. But what a shame that in our society we do not value and honor the natural process of death.

How demoralizing and degrading I felt in watching those baboons suffer a slow agonizing death needlessly. It is wrong to continue to use animals in this way. The way I viewed the pig's existence was no different than the conditions most of our meat is raised today in confined factory farm situations, which is not good either.

Raising animals for food is one thing, but raising them for organs and wasting the meat is just another way we show our arogance and false sense of entitlement in life. Not to mention the pandora's box we might be opening up.

Ann Murrell
guysville, ohio


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