A Day for Lab Animals
It’s World Day for Laboratory Animals – April 24th.
The day was founded by Britain’s National Anti-Vivisection Society in 1979 to mark the birthday of Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding. Dowding was the commanding officer of the RAF Fighter Command that led Britain’s response to the German Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain in 1940. (Lawrence Olivier would later play him in the movie The Battle of Britain.)
Along with his wife, Lady Muriel Dowding, the air chief marshal was a staunch anti-vivisectionist, and in 1973 Britain’s National Anti-Vivisection Society founded the Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research in his honor.
When Dowding died in 1970, experimentation on animals had already reached mass-production levels. But it was still nothing compared to what goes on today. In the United States alone, it’s estimated that some 100 million animals die every year in laboratories. The exact figures are hard to determine since the most used animals, mice and rats, along with birds and reptiles, are not classified by the government as “animals”, so records don’t have to be kept on their number or how they’re treated. (These non-animals make up about 90 percent of all animals in laboratories.)
One of the latest uses of animals in vivisection was reported by the Associated Press last week. It includes a video of soldiers being taught how to apply a tourniquet to someone whose leg has been shot off.
In the video, the goat is still while its legs are cut. Later it makes noise and moves, followed by one of the men calling for another “bump” of anesthesia.
Other branches of the military use similar training on goats and pigs and have defended it as a way to replicate wartime injuries and prepare medics and front-line troops for treating catastrophic injuries in the field of battle.
The Pentagon declined to respond to an AP request for comment on the video.
“Effective combat trauma training and treatment results in lowering the fatality rate of U.S. troops deployed in combat situations,” [Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Jamie C.] Frederick wrote.
Animals who have been cloned, genetically engineered or otherwise modified are known as “pharm animals.”
“There is tremendous potential to produce malaria vaccines and other types of medicines, especially for Third World countries,” researcher Mark Westhusin of Texas A&M University told Fast Company’s Ben Schiller. “If you produce these proteins in goats and other transgenic animals, it’s way more efficient, and cheaper, than the old-fashioned ways.”
Efficient. Cheap. And that’s all that seems to matter. But is it right to use nonhuman animals in this way?
If I were in danger of contracting malaria, would I drink the genetically engineered goat-milk vaccine? Probably, yes. And if I were a soldier who’d had my leg shot off in Afghanistan, would I be grateful for the fact that my treatment was courtesy of a goat in the United States? Probably, yes again.
And if my wife were dying of cancer and a new treatment that might save her life were dependent on being tried out first on some mice, would I agree to that?
A colleague once answered that one thusly:
“If it were about my child, my husband, my mother, I’d certainly want them to experiment on the mice. Frankly, I’d want them to experiment on you if it would help me. But that’s why we have laws, isn’t it – so that we’re not put in the position of making decisions that are morally wrong. So it’s a completely bogus question. It’s not a matter of what your emotions might dictate in a catastrophic situation; it’s about what society agrees is right and wrong.”
Many doctors and scientists argue that little in modern medicine has been gained from vivisection. It’s a debate that pits unlimited sets of facts, figures and speculations against each other. Where do you draw the line?
Most of today’s killer diseases are lifestyle-related, and millions of animals are sacrificed for “research” into cures for diabetes-2, heart disease and the many cancers that are born of ingesting things that we all know are bad for us. We all know perfectly well that these diseases can all be avoided, and in many cases even cured, simply by giving up the bad habit. Why does any unconsenting animal have to die for this?
And why, too, do goats and pigs have to be crippled and killed so we can make war on people we call our enemies? (Why, indeed, do our sons and daughters have to die for this?) Are there really no other ways of settling our human squabbles?
But even if you accept the premise that there are some real benefits to human health from vivisection, does that make it OK?
The National Institutes of Health recently issued recommendations that experiments on chimpanzees should be cut way back and conducted only when no suitable alternative is available or where testing on humans would be unethical, and only for life-threatening or debilitating conditions.
Is it OK, then, in those few cases? Here’s what Mark Twain said about that:
“I believe I am not interested to know whether vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or it doesn’t. To know that the results are profitable to the race would not remove my hostility to it. The pain which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity toward it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further.”
Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding would doubtless have agreed that, in the final analysis, any society that bases the health of its citizens on a foundation of cruelty and misery toward other animals cannot ultimately be a healthy one. The cures that it produces will necessarily be fleeting and illusory, rather than a true prescription for real health and vitality.
Posted April 24, 2012, by Michael Mountain