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Should Animal Transplants be used in Humans?

MEDIA RELEASE
Tuesday 1 February, 0100

Should Animal Transplants be used in Humans?

Should animal transplants be used in humans? This is the question the government-appointed Bioethics Council is asking the public of New Zealand to consider.

The Council is today launching a discussion document on the subject entitled “The Cultural, Spiritual and Ethical Aspects of Xenotransplantation: Animal-to-Human Transplantation”. This will be followed by a public dialogue when the Council will listen to the views of New Zealanders on xenotransplantation.

“As we embark on this dialogue the Council has an open mind and, following the public dialogue, it will provide advice to government which could lead to legislation on the matter. So this is a very important opportunity for people to involve themselves,” says Jill White, chair of the Bioethics Council.

“There are a number of xenotransplantation or animal-to-human transplantation procedures. They potentially offer treatment for serious conditions such as kidney or liver failure and diabetes. At the same time, xenotransplantation raises significant questions around the cultural, ethical and spiritual issues for many people, as well as questions around risks to public health, and implications for animal welfare. We want to hear from New Zealanders on these points,” says Ms White.

“It is the intention of the Council to ensure awareness is raised around cultural, ethical and spiritual aspects of biotechnology and that people have every opportunity to discuss and debate these issues. Developments in biotechnology are happening so quickly that we wish to encourage proper consideration from a cultural, ethical and spiritual viewpoint. This public dialogue will ensure there is adequate time and consideration,” says Ms White.

The dialogue events, to be held over the next four months, will include eight face-to-face meetings, an online discussion forum and a written submission process. Dialogue seeks to build understanding, rather than persuade people to adopt a particular position. It provides participants with a non-threatening ‘space’ where they do not need to fear personal attack and can examine their own convictions.

“Many people know of someone who has received a human cell, tissue or organ transplant. Artificial implants, such as titanium hips or pacemakers, are also routinely introduced into humans. While once thought of as radical, these are now common practices. Whether animal transplants should be used in humans is something we hope to understand from the dialogue,” says Ms White.

Xenotransplantation is not a new idea. However, advances in the science are steadily overcoming previous hurdles, such as rejection by the human immune system. Consequently, scientists and researchers are again looking at how animal transplants could form part of the solution to the accelerating demand for transplanted tissue, especially with an aging population and limited supply of human organ donors. This subject has also been recently discussed in a number of other countries including Australia and Canada.

The discussion document provides background information and invites New Zealanders to consider the cultural, ethical and spiritual dimensions of xenotransplantation. It is available online at www.bioethics.org.nz. Responses can be made to the Council through the public dialogue programme, the online forum or via written submissions – all of which take place between March and May 2005. The Council will present a report to government on the views it has heard, as well stating as its own position.

Toi te Taiao: the Bioethics Council was established in 2002 to consider the cultural, ethical and spiritual issues raised by biotechnologies such as xenotransplantation and to provide advice and make recommendations to government. In 2004 it conducted an extensive public dialogue on the use of human genes in other organisms and in 2003 presented a report to the Minister for the Environment on nanotechnology.

FACT SHEET

- For more information visit www.bioethics.org.nz

- The Bioethics Council was appointed by the Government in December 2002. Its goal is “To enhance New Zealand’s understanding of the cultural, ethical and spiritual aspects of biotechnology and ensure that the use of biotechnology has regard for the values held by New Zealanders”.

- Within its role the Bioethics Council is expected to:
o Provide independent advice to the Government on biotechnological issues involving significant cultural, ethical and spiritual dimensions.
o Promote and participate in public dialogue on the cultural, ethical and spiritual aspects of biotechnology, and enable public participation in the Council’s activities.
o Provide information on the cultural, ethical and spiritual aspects of biotechnology.

- In 2004, the Bioethics Council undertook a significant dialogue on the cultural, ethical and spiritual dimensions of the use of Human Genes in other Organisms. Submissions were made to two Bills being considered by Select Committees. These were the New Organisms and Other Matters (NOOM) Bill and the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology (HART) Bill. The Maori Working Group also came together and started to build connections and explore the needs of Maori in relation to participation in dialogue about biotechnologies.

- Xenotransplantation derives from the Greek word xenos, meaning foreign. The issues surrounding this procedure come from associating something ‘foreign’ with the human body.

- New Zealanders can have their say about xenotransplantation by becoming involved in one or more of the following activities which will be taking place between March and May 2005:

o Visit the website for background information and links to more detailed background research: www.bioethics.org.nz

o Join the online discussion forum, which will run from 1 March 2005. To register, log on to www.bioethics.org.nz/dialogue/forum/

o Attend a dialogue event. Details of where and when will be posted on our website. Dialogue seeks to build understanding, rather than persuading people to adopt a position. The dialogue events provide participants with a non-threatening ‘space’ to discuss and debate the issues and examine their own deeply held convictions without fear of person attack. Please register your interest by email xeno@bioethics.org.nz, so that we can contact you to provide further information on the dialogue programme.

o Make a submission by mail, email or online. In Part Two of the document there are questions to help guide you to make a submission. There is a submission form on our website, or just send us a letter or email.

o Get together with whanau, friends or workmates and have a discussion. We want people thinking and talking about these topics, even if you do not end up writing anything down. Our website has links to ideas on running dialogue groups.

Membership of the Bioethics Council:
- Jill White – Chair (May 2004 to present)
- Dr Helen Bichan
- Eamon Daly
- Anne Dickinson

- Waiora Port
- Graham Robertson
- Dr Martin Wilkinson
- Prof Piri Sciascia
- Prof Chris Cunningham

ENDS

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