Animal Studies Bibliography

Birke, Lynda and Mike Michael. 1998. The Heart of the Matter: Animal Bodies, Ethics, and Species Boundaries. Society & Animals 6(3): 245-261.

In this article, the authors discuss species boundaries and how they are called into question by practices like xenotransplantation, or the utilization of animal organs in human transplants. They state that “moving organs, tissues, or DNA between two different organisms creates a kind of hybrid organism as well as many related ethical dilemmas” (p. 245). The authors look at how the media portrays these processes and ideas about the divide between humans and nonhuman animals. They claim to “examine the implications of discourse about xenotransplantation for animals and their welfare; for our own concepts of our bodies and for human health; and, to a lesser extent, for concepts of selfhood and identity” (p. 246).

They question whether raising animals to use their body parts for the welfare of the human race is ethical, especially considering that animal organs are not really used to help nonhuman animals that are suffering. As the authors point out, the animals are not only used , but created specifically to fulfill this function in our society. Further, they ask how one can delineate human from nonhuman when their bodies are becoming more alike through this process: “what then counts as “body” or as “self”?” (p. 247). They discuss Darwinian theory, showing how its emphasis in defining the divide between human and nonhuman is on the body, and thus problematic in the current context.

The article addresses contradictions in media messages about xenotransplantation. While those in favor of using animals for this practice claim that animals are close enough to humans to use as models and for their organs, they justify this use (of human -like animals) by also emphasizing that these animals are just bodies – machines – unlike humans. The authors state that “the underlying message [in the media] seems to be that it is acceptable to transfer tissue between species, even when one of those species is a human being, on the grounds of the fundamental similarity of structure and function. Yet, embedded within those assumptions, are issues of difference, of discontinuity: why else use nonhuman animal bodies for human benefit?” (p. 249).

It is stated that scientists have an aversion to using those animals that are deemed too close to humans (such as chimpanzees), while animals like pigs, that are already culturally defined as things that can be used by humans (for food), make good specimens for xenotransplantation. So while there is a willingness to use some animals for this process, it is recognized that other animals are too similar to humans, and therefore it would not be ethical to use them.

The authors address problems that are not discussed in the media, such as the possibility of the transference of disease for one species to another. They also state that “transplanted organs can lead to chimerism – a kind of hybrid state in which some cells originated from the donor individual, and some from the recipient” (p. 252). This is problematic because, psychologically, transplant recipients can start to view themselves as being more animal-like and although a literal transference of characteristics is heavily refuted, there has been some evidence of it.

The authors claim that the media promotes an acceptance of xenotransplantation by stating that the animal donor is not really an animal: “if what is transplanted is part-human, then the boundaries are not being so blatantly transgressed…in many ways, this discursive transformation is reminiscent of the ways in which animal bodies must be transformed culturally to become meat” (p. 254). In this way, animals are viewed as “purified” of their animalness. They talk about how this process of humanizing animals for transplantation, of creating “hybrids”, raising legal issues, such as what rights these human-like animals should have.

It is further argued that the media uses the idea of the “helpful beast” to promote positive attitudes toward xenotransplantation. The discourse in the media is seen as implying that animals “actively participate in the research enterprise,” as though they have a say in whether they are used for this process (p. 257). The authors state that “this portrayal has to be implicit, for if pigs overtly consented to donate organs, then we would question their rationality – whether this was real consent: who, after all, rationally consents to fatally donating his or her organ?” (p. 257).

In their conclusion, the authors restate their main point, that this kind of process raises many issues about identity and how one should view different species, nature, and the human race itself. They feel that the media's manufacturing of consent is dangerous because it is unethical and because we do not know what the effects of this boundary crossing will be on humans or animals.



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