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In Defense of Xenotransplantation, Part 2...

                                                                                                Alastair Gordon

The Islet Foundation




                                                                                                April 3, 2002

The Hon Annette King
Minister of Health

Parliament Buildings
Wellington, New Zealand

Tel:       (04) 470 6554
Fax:      (04) 389 4182 / (04) 387 2714 / (04) 495 8445


Sent by regular mail, fax, and email


Dear Minister:


I trust that you have had an opportunity to read and consider the letter that I sent to you on March 26. I have just received a copy of your Media Release dated 28 March 2002, dealing largely with xenotransplantation. In this release, your ministry is giving its reasons for favoring a ban on clinical trials of islet xenografts. I find this document to be somewhat encouraging, since the reasons cited against clinical trials are errors in fact or misinterpretations of results. Since the reasons are invalid, the negative conclusions must likewise be invalid. It is my hope that the needless public cost, suffering, and death that would result from delaying or prohibiting these trials will not happen.


On page 20, your release discusses the results of testing people who have received pig xenografts over the past 12 years. The release confuses the observed survival of transplanted cells, the desirable outcome of a xenograft, with a persistent infection, an undesirable outcome.  Microchimerism and infection are two very different observations. Simply put, there was no infection and no disease, but there was survival of the therapeutic cells. This outcome is the best imaginable.


Again on page 20, your media release recognizes the risk of xenotourism, with patients traveling to other countries for therapeutic xenografts, and returning to New Zealand with no possibility of monitoring or follow-up testing. Your release asserts that “New Zealand safety standards would drop to meet the lowest standards around the world.” The key here is that those suffering from diabetes and other diseases will be aware that your ministry has no scientific basis for its prohibition, and will not view your standards as higher, but merely as wrong. You can be certain that people will not allow their children to suffer based on the kind of logic evidenced in this media release. It is a certainty that a prohibition or delay will result in the xenotourism that you so dread.


On page 24, your release states, “New section 96E requires the Minister to consider, before authorizing a specified biotechnical procedure … whether any cultural or spiritual issues raised by the procedure have been adequately addressed.” Surely this is not the purview of the Ministry. Anyone is free to decline treatment if it offends their own spirituality, but I would never want to tell a mother that she should let her child suffer and die because it offends the spiritual values of some other group. If your ministry were to be consistent in this role, then it would have to outlaw blood transfusions and abortions for all New Zealanders. If you chose to be arbitrary and pass this bill, then you are blatantly trampling on the rights of one select group, while allowing other spiritually offensive procedures to continue. This is an indefensible position.


On page 19, you correctly cite other diseases that have passed from animals to humans. Yet have any of these diseases passed as a result of xenotransplantation? Absolutely not! To be consistent with the current proposed moratorium on xenografts, you would have to ban the eating of meat and all human/animal contact, including agriculture. As I mentioned in my first letter to you, if pig prions were to be a reality, every pig product from bacon to insulin would have already spread the disease to humans. The fact that there has been not a single case of disease despite millions of opportunities demonstrates that xenografts are far safer than risks now accepted in everyday medical practice.


At the risk of being repetitive, I must again state that a prohibition is justified if and only if there is evidence of a public health risk. Before any virus could become a public health risk, there are five conditions that must be met:


1.      The virus must be capable of infecting living humans.

2.      The virus must be replication-competent.

3.      The virus must cause disease in its human host.

4.      The virus must be transmissible from the host to other human beings.

5.      Xenotransplantation must represent a significant new vector for infection, above and beyond normal vectors such as animal handling, veterinary care, pets, and food processing and consumption.


Toady, despite millions of opportunities, not even the first step has been demonstrated. If a moratorium were to be imposed, then your Ministry would have to demonstrate a reasonable risk of meeting all five conditions.


Should governments of the past century have enacted such legislation, New Zealand would be a country without insulin from animals, without human hormones from genetically-modified bacteria, without clotting factor from pigs, and, perhaps most tragcially, without vaccines cultured in animal tissue.  Not one of these medical advances would have passed the irrational hurdles being imposed in this case. New Zealand must not shift from being a modern, rational, ethical democracy, to a fearful, anti-scientific, and arbitrary oligarchy. This legislation is not only morally reprehensible, but it also violates your own constitution.


Your media release is very important, as it expresses the rationale behind a proposal that will prolong disease and suffering for millions. It also shows that there is no rationale.



Yours very truly,





Alastair Gordon


The Islet Foundation