Tied With Bayknot (Part III)
First fake meat, and now this. My disgust was occupying my immediate surroundings until a bird zoomed just over my head. It rattled me and I dropped one of my knitting needles. I looked to the right where it had landed to see a middle aged man tearing up small pieces of bread and feeding the modest crowd of birds that had formed around his feet.
“Zachary, stop right there!” a chubby lady yelled as her son, probably 6 or 7-years old, dashed towards the flock of birds. Zachary laughed and sprinted straight through the birds. They scattered quickly in fear and the man with the bread flung his arms up before quickly recovering from his anger and smiling at Zachary. “I’m so sorry! Zack, you get back here right now!” the lady yelled through her teeth, as she ran by the man. She apologetically yelled, “I’m really sorry, he’s such a trouble maker.” The man reassured her that it’s no problem and she continued to chase after her son, frustration colored her face.
“Yes, I know, Julia, and thank you for supporting my career, you know your support means everything to me. And you’re right, I shouldn’t be employed by a company whose values don’t match mine, but I already signed the two year contract. That’s where the problem beings. They assigned me to this project the week after I joined, so there’s nothing I can do about it now,” I explained, rubbing my hands together in attempt to dry my clammy palms.
Julia watched the ground and scattered a small pile of pebbles with her shoe. “Okay, what’s done is done,” she said, still staring at the ground. “I don’t support animal testing and all this unnatural cloning stuff, but at least it is curing people, and the cows aren’t getting hurt really, are they,” she said after a few moments in a statement of uncertain and reluctant acceptance.
“Wait. I’m not done yet,” I injected before she began convincing herself that this was all okay. She thought the reason I was stressed was because I was doing something against her beliefs- well, I am doing something against her beliefs, but this wasn’t it.
I looked back towards the couple. They seemed to be quiet now. I couldn’t hear much of what they were saying, but I could see the woman’s expression transforming. I knitted a few more stitches. It’s almost done. The sweater is for Aaron’s son, Hayden. It’s his first birthday tomorrow and Aaron has invited a few family friends to celebrate.
It was kind of justifiable before. Create cloned cows to harvest their blood plasma. I mean it’s as justifiable as factory farming; it’s for the greater good, right? But now? This?
I explained to Julia the details of how the cows are vaccinated against Ebola using a DNA vaccine, which she accepted with minimal amusement. Then came the hard part.
People like me, genetic engineers and researchers, we’re required to study if these antibodies, once taken out of the cows’ blood plasma, actually worked.
“We couldn’t test on mice or monkey models,” Gerald winced as soon as he realized he had said models, “sorry, I mean-“
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I glowered. As if animal testing isn’t bad enough already, then on top of that, these researchers and scientists devalue the animals even further by objectifying them as nothing more than models. I’ve had animal welfare arguments with Gerald over a hundred times and I’ve never lost.
“These cows only produce human antibodies, so it would be useless to test their functionality on mice or monkeys.” Gerald paused and waited for me to imply his next sentence so he wouldn’t have to say it. He always does that when he is afraid to directly admit something.
I hoped Julia would understand what I was trying to say but she tensed her shoulders and prodded her neck forward, eyebrows raised, urging me to continue. She wanted to hear me say it.
“You understand, don’t you?” I asked, still trying to avoid having to say the words.
I don’t know if the woman was stupid, naive, or just wanted to hear her husband admit it, but even I understood by now. Bayknot was testing on human subjects.
I could see Julia’s pupils dilate in anxiety although the rest of her body remained completely frozen.
“Julia,” I rushed, but she was no longer looking at me, “Julia, these subjects- Bayknot is going against IRB protocol. They are testing on the mentally ill and the terminally ill.” Julia had become perfectly vacant. She was entitled to. I was feeling more nauseated and ashamed as ever now that I had finally said it out loud. I chewed my lips as I carefully considered what to say next.
My job was restricted to taking the antibodies out of the plasma so I would have never known about the test subjects, but after the nurse had become infected, I had been offered his task in exchange for a large raise. My boss told me I would be collecting blood samples from the test subjects and transporting the samples back to the lab. It was simple enough, and well worth the money, so I took the job. Shortly after, I was taken into the testing facility to gather blood samples from the subjects. Only then did I find out that the subjects were human. That’s when I recognized the nurse in one of the examination rooms. I had only met him once before at a Bayknot social, but I never forget a face. His was sullen and he gave me this pained look, a look that I didn’t quite understand at the time. Examination rooms along the hall were each filled with a subject who had been exposed to Ebola. The patients and were deteriorating quickly. I explained it all to Julia as she sat numb. I couldn’t tell if she was even listening.
“How could you be so stupid, Gerald?” I finally burst, although my voice didn’t come out as aggressive as I had hoped, “And don’t you dare say it was for our family. We aren’t that desperate!”
“I didn’t know!” he exclaimed, and I believed him, but I was too shaken to console him.
“We have to do something,” I said dryly.
“I’m not even allowed to tell you any of this, if Bayknot finds out I blabbed, they’ll use me as a test subject! The nurse, the one they later told me had gotten infected, I don’t believe he was infected, Julia. The safety and security measures at Bayknot are pretty high, so it’s very improbable that the nurse was exposed. I bet you they found out he snitched!” Gerald was yelling in whispers and the strain was making him sweat even more. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.
My face was hot, my throat was dry, but my eyes felt wet. “We can go to the police.” The gravity of the situation was pushing down on me, one thought at a time.
“We can’t. We can’t do anything. I never told you anything, do you understand? We never had this conversation. You don’t know anything about this, okay?”
I finished packing up my belongings and quickly got up to leave. Even my hands were sweaty. I didn’t want to be part of this any more than that man. I pushed it all to the back of my mind. Hayden’s birthday is tomorrow, and I have a sweater to finish.
*Bayknot Gen is a fictional organization although details of this story are true. Check out NBC News for more information.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
Is it acceptable to essentially harvest animals for medical purposes?
Should the same ethical treatment laws apply to cloned animals?
What about for animals that are “part human?”