Letter: Ethics and `human pig' transplants

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YOUR STORY about xenotransplantation ("Doctors seek `human pig' transplants", 31 January) perpetuates several misunderstandings.

All those concerned with xenotransplantation recognise that clinical trials involving humans should be undertaken only with the utmost caution. The UK Xenotransplantation Interim Regulatory Authority, of which I am chairman, approaches its work on that basis. Clinical trials involving humans will take place only if we, and the Government, are satisfied that the evidence is sufficient to justify the procedure proposed.

The UKXIRA published guidelines for the conduct of such trials in July last year. It is misleading to describe them as giving "new powers" to the authority. There has since been further public consultation, and all the work of the UKXIRA to date was discussed at an open meeting on 7 December 1998.

The ethical issues were covered in the 1997 report Animal Tissue into Humans, which provides the ethical basis for UKXIRA's work. The report itself was subject to a three-month period of public consultation. At every stage, the public has been informed and invited to participate. This will continue to be the case.

RT REV JOHN HABGOOD

Malton, North Yorkshire

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