A few weeks ago I wrote about drawing a line in the sand, and how we define what we’re willing to eat. It’s easy for us to say that we’ll eschew animal products as food. The choice between eating a sentient creature that has almost assuredly been brutalized, or eating a vegetable-based diet is now a non-issue; we do not need to consume animal products to live. We have reached a point where we cannot not knowingly participate in the torture of animals. As Gary at AnimalWritings.com stated:
I am also compelled to weigh my inessential desires against others’ most profound interests, such as fear of suffering and the will to live. In nearly all commercial animal agriculture operations in the Western world, we violate those interests to satisfy human greed or habits. I cannot, in good conscience, trample others’ free will in the most violent ways because I like the taste of their flesh or secretions.
We wholeheartedly agree. But what about medical issues?
I read today that pig cell transplants can help people with insulin-dependent diabetes. I haven’t done much reading on the topic (and don’t plan to). The research appears to be in the early stages of human testing. However, one man had the procedure done ten years ago and is still seeing positive effects, although how much is not clear.
The cells being used in this procedure are pancreatic cells from new-born pigs. They are treated with some kind of algae which makes them “invisible” to the individual’s immune system. This is an especially remarkable procedure because the patients do not need to take immuno-suppressant drugs. The cells do wear out over time, so it looks like “booster” injections might be warranted. And then there are the trans-species issues to be concerned about (porcine endogenous retroviruses, in this case)…
So, if in the future, one of us develops a medical condition that could be dramatically improved, or even cured by a transplant from a donor animal, how would we proceed? Does it matter if the animal is killed or if the cells are harvested and the animal kept alive? Over time, I can imagine “factory-harvested” animal cells/organs/secretions with the animals being treated as a product, and therefore handled in the most economically efficient (less humane) manner. I don’t want to participate in that, but I assume I’m already benefiting from medical testing on animals… I take aspirin when I have a headache. I’ve been prescribed vicodin when I had my knees “scoped.” I take Nyquil when I have a cold and cannot sleep. Some, if not all, of these medicines have surely been tested on animals. Does that make me a hypocritical vegan?
I know that if Jane’s life were on the line, I wouldn’t hesitate. I’d be slightly more conflicted if it were my health that was at stake, but overall, I think health trumps compassion.