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Submission from CMF to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' Working Party on Xenografts

Published: 1st June 1995

Introduction

Christian Medical Fellowship is interdenominational and has as members well over 4,000 British doctors who are Christians and who desire their professional and personal lives to be governed by the Christian faith as revealed in the Bible. We have members in all branches of the profession and through the International Christian Medical and Dental Association are linked with like-minded colleagues in more than 60 other countries.

We regularly make submissions on a whole range of ethical matters to Governmental and other bodies, and welcome this opportunity to comment on 'the present and proposed uses of animal cells, tissues and organs in the treatment of human disease'.

This Submission has been produced after extensive discussion by our Medical Study Group, which in addition to membership from across the medical profession has nursing and theological inputs. One doctor member works in the field of renal transplantation.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is an independent body established in 1991 by the Trustees of the Nuffield Foundation. Members of the Council include doctors, educationalists, journalists, lawyers, philosophers, scientists and theologians.

Early in 1995 the Council set up a working party on Xenografts to examine the issues surrounding the use of animal cells, tissues and organs in the treatment of human disease. The Executive Committee of CMF made this submission in June 1995.

Christian attitudes to the human and non-human animal worlds

Our attitude to the use of non-human animals (hereafter animals) for medical research and treatment is derived from primary Christian beliefs about the significance and value both of human beings and of the animal world.

In Christian thought both humans and animals are created by God and thus share a common biological origin, described in Genesis 2:7 as 'the dust of the ground'. Only human beings, however, have unique significance and value because only they are made 'in the image of God' (Genesis 1:27).

Christian thought is therefore unashamedly 'speciesist' in the distinction it makes between human and animal life. Humans and animals are seen as entirely distinct entities with well-defined moral differences between them. Human beings have a responsibility to 'rule over' the animal world (Genesis 1:28); in other words, to exercise responsible authority and stewardship.

This applies to the use of animals for a wide variety of purposes including use for food and for biomedical research and treatment. However, human beings are not free mindlessly to exploit or abuse the animal world but must exercise their authority with respect and concern for the wellbeing and dignity of animals.

We are aware that in the past Christian theology has been misused to imply support for unhealthy exploitation and abuse of the animal kingdom. This is not a Biblical position and we reject it.

The use of xenografts

In general, the use of animal xenografts for transplant surgery in order to treat human disease is therefore consistent with Christian beliefs, and in principle we approve of this approach.

However, we have a number of concerns and uncertainties which we wish the Working Party to consider:

1. Concerns for human beings

1.1 The possibility of unforeseen physical hazards to the recipients of xenografts.

These include the possibility of transmitting novel animal diseases including prion diseases. We are concerned that clear safeguards should be established to minimise these risks.

1.2 The possibility of fundamental and irreversible alteration of human personality and behaviour.

Restrictions should be considered on xenograft transplants which might fundamentally and irreversibly alter human personality and behaviour, such as central nervous tissue xenografts which might have novel and unforeseen effects on human personality.

1.3 The possibility of undue pressure being placed on prospective recipients of experimental xenografts.

Particularly while treatments are at an experimental stage, we are concerned that undue pressure might be placed on prospective recipients. There must be clear evidence of fully informed consent by the recipients prior to any 'experimental' therapeutic procedure.

2. Concerns for animals

2.1 Use of excessive numbers of animals

We are concerned that excessive numbers of animals may be sacrificed in order to create suitable tissues or organs for transplants. Should restrictions be placed on the numbers which may be used for these purposes? For example, would it be appropriate to sacrifice thousands of 'higher' animals to give a chance of life to one human being?

2.2 Commercial pressures leading to exploitation of the animal kingdom

We are concerned about the evidence of excessive commercial pressures and the unrestricted operation of the profit motive in this area. This may lead to a lack of concern for animal welfare and to exploitation of the animal kingdom. Statutory safeguards may need to be strengthened.

2.3 The creation of transgenic animals

We are uncertain whether statutory limits and safeguards are needed here. We fear the possibility of unforeseen hazards to animals including novel genetic mutations which may involve extreme suffering, or the inadvertent creation of a 'super-animal' with unforeseen properties or dangers.

3. Concern to prevent any human/animal hybrid

It might become technically possible to create a human/animal hybrid which would breach the clear divide between the human and non-human species. This should never be permitted.

For further information:

Philippa Taylor (CMF Head of Public Policy) 020 7234 9664
Steven Fouch (CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9668

Media Enquiries:

Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225

About CMF:

Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) was founded in 1949 and is an interdenominational organisation with over 4,000 British doctor members in all branches of medicine. A registered charity, it is linked to about 65 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.

CMF exists to unite Christian doctors to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.

Christian Medical Fellowship:
uniting & equipping Christian doctors & nurses
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