Friday, May 27, 2005

Harvest: the donor debate

The problem with most of the debate surrounding medical research on animals is that it's always presented as an "us versus them" issue, the implication being that only people who secretly hate their fellow humans would vote for the welfare of animals over the potential benefit to humankind.
This is how this debate is being presented:

"Stem cell research is underway in Reno that could someday revolutionize the now clogged organ transplant industry. Scientists are attempting to "grow" humanized organs. The use of animals has some saying that it's just wrong. Others disagree.
...There is the possibility that in the future other organs, including humanized hearts and kidneys, could be grown in the animals and harvested as needed. Dr. Zanjani says this would ultimately have an unlimited potential for providing a variety of organs for transplant purposes.
Scientific gain at the animal's expense does not appeal to everyone. Jane Greenspun-Gale is Chairperson for the Lied Animal Foundation in Las Vegas. 'If an unborn, microscopic baby can have rights, why can't a living breathing animal.'"


The news story format doesn't allow the complexities of the debate to unfold. The position that Dr Zanjani takes explicitly is that there's a desperate shortage of organ donors and that new medical research must address this need. What isn't being aired is that stem cell research in human beings has become a politically rather than medically controversial issue, which is why stem cell research is being carried out on other animals instead. Humans vote, animals don't.
On the subject of legal rights for animals, Steven M Wise makes a powerful case in his book, Drawing The Line. He mentions the particular cases of humans who have "little or no autonomy but [do] have legal rights": a 67-year-old man with an IQ of ten, a 10-month-old girl born into a permanent vegetative state. Then he mentions Koko, the gorilla who can sign "SIT KOKO LOVE YOU", "SMOKE MOUTH" for cigarette and lots of other things.
"Compare our baby girl to Koko," he writes. "On what nonarbitrary ground could a judge find the little girl has a common law right to bodily integrity that forbids her use in terminal biomedical research, but that Koko shouldn't have that right, without violating basic notions of equality? Only a radical speciesist could accept a baby girl who lacks consciousness, sentience, even a brain, as having legal rights just because she's human, yet the thinkingest, talkingest, feelingest apes have no rights at all, just because they're not human."

How can we insist on compassion for one and only one animal, the naked ape, and ignore all the rest?

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