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PRESS RELEASE
October 31, 2001
Contact: Alix Fano, Director
Tel. (212) 579-3477

CRT Files FOIA Lawsuit Against National Institutes of Health Charging Agency Withheld Documents

Yesterday, the Campaign for Responsible Transplantation (CRT) - a coalition of 90 public interest groups promoting a ban on xenotransplantation - filed a lawsuit against the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in federal district court under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

CRT believes that xenotransplantation should be banned because of the risk of transferring deadly animal viruses to humans.

CRT's lawsuit charges that the NIH is unlawfully withholding information about nominees to the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Xenotransplantation
(SACX) - the committee which shapes xenotransplantation policy in the United States. The NIH claims that information about nominees is confidential under FOIA. CRT disagrees.

"The SACX has the power to give the go-ahead for human experiments with animal organs, cells and tissues, with the potential to unleash a new virus on the human population," says Alix Fano, CRT's director. "In light of the tremendous trust that must be placed on the individuals on this committee, the public has a right to see how nominees to the committee were chosen, and more importantly, who was not chosen, so the public can determine whether the committee is balanced according to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and whether the selection process was biased," says Fano.

CRT believes that several members of the SACX are biased in favor of xenotransplantation. The NIH, which oversees the SACX, has dispensed millions of taxpayer dollars for xenotransplantation research. Moreover, CRT believes that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees clinical xenotransplantation trials, has allowed dozens of such trials to proceed with few, if any, safeguards for public health. CRT has also filed a lawsuit against the FDA for its failure to release information about side effects and deaths in clinical xenotransplant trials under FOIA.

"There has been enough secrecy in government with respect to xenotransplantation and gene therapy," says Fano. "The Freedom of Information Act makes no provisions for secrecy or deceit. It was designed to hold the government accountable to the public. The government may not want to cooperate, but we intend to use the law for its intended purpose," says Fano.