Submission to the Bioethics Council on xenotransplantation

Submission to the Bioethics Council’s discussion on Xenotransplantation - May 2005.

NZORD is a charitable trust that works to provide information, support and resources for health and disability support groups, particularly those that have small numbers and limited resources and capacity, and to assist their voices being heard in policy setting and decision making processes. Our submission covers three basic points:

1 - Safety.
We note the significant amount of research and review undertaken on the topic of xenotransplantation safety, and the possible transfer of diseases from animal to human. Our reading of the reports and discussions indicate that the early cause for concern of disease transfer now seems to be overtaken and diminished by further research. There seem to be only theoretical scientific risks from xenotransplantation, rather than any actual risks demonstrated. Furthermore the actual experience to date seems to significantly counter the theoretical risk described.
The established need for a very large number of people to get more effective treatments for the range of diseases for which xenotransplantation is one possibility, is a good reason for allowing the research to continue. This is a case of the benefits outweighing the risks. It is worth noting in this regard that the US is allowing controlled trials of the technology to proceed.
Given the potential benefits, and the reality of risk in any new technology, there seems to be a strong case for allowing carefully controlled clinical trials and research to identify and monitor benefits and risks. The case for keeping a moratorium in place does not seem to be justified. The appropriate response should be to proceed with caution.

2 - Cultural, spiritual and ethical aspects.
It is important to respect and value the views and opinions expressed by people from all walks of life and all persuasions. But in order for any cultural, spiritual or ethical position to impose a veto or any other significant restriction on the development of this promising new technology, it should be necessary to identify powerful and overwhelming argument(s) from one or more of those perspectives, to justify a continued moratorium.
There does not seem, by a very wide margin, to be any argument(s) strong enough from cultural, spiritual or ethical perspectives, to meet a threshold to prevent the continued research and clinical trials for xenotransplantation technology.

3 - Support for the submission of Diabetes Youth New Zealand.
As is common within our networks, one or two groups do a considerable amount of detailed work on a topic that is of particular interest to them. NZORD has carefully assessed the submission of DYNZ and endorses it in full as a clear and well reasoned analysis of the issues. In addition, the discussion document of the Bioethics Council, several of the reports cited in it, the postings on the discussion bulletin, and other general reading and discussion on the topic, have been the basis of our thorough analysis of the policy decision that is now required.

We call for a policy decision that lifts the moratorium on xenotransplantation and allows research and clinical trials to continue, and invite the Bioethics Council to make such a recommendation to government in its report.

Click here for the submission of Diabetes Youth New Zealand

John Forman
Executive Director