Ron, my Kofa contact, asked me to post some comments/questions he has. He is looking to learn what the animal rights community thinks. Any comments that are not “nice” or “respectful” in response to this will be deleted. He is looking for our input, not our attacks.
As part of my duties while in the U.S. Army as a senior veterinary animal technician, I cared for animals, including Rhesus monkeys, which were involved in important research involving corneal transplant and other experimentation. As a wildlife biologist, I have been involved in research with wildlife that sometimes resulted in deaths from capture myopathy (shock disease) during capture techniques or broken bones that required veterinarian-assisted amputations and release back into the wild of several three-legged “tripod” bighorn sheep. Simple helicopter surveys of bighorn are stressful to them and have resulted in deaths from stress-induced capture myopathy, from falls, or from missing a turn of the trail during pursuit and bailing off of a cliff death fall. At least one proposed wildlife research project I fully supported was scuttled because animal rights groups might be opposed to having wild animals captured and placed in a lab for physiological studies involving free water needs of bighorn which would result in those research subjects never being returned to the wild.
I am asking for your reasons why you might be against using domesticated or wild animals as laboratory research subjects to further the advancement of human health or understand how to best manage wildlife in the wild using the best available laboratory science. This would require housing research subjects in humane (not inhumane!) enclosures following all applicable rules, regulations, and laws, but the research could eventually lead to the animals’ sacrifice to answer valid scientific questions. Wild animals would require care for the rest of their lives away from their natural habitat.
I am seeking reasoned debate and answers from an informed group that has a different view of animal rights than I might espouse.
These questions are both specific and broad, so I might skip parts and rely on comments to fill in the detail on what I leave fuzzy.
A couple things jump out at me – research to further human medical science and research for the better management of wildlife populations initially appear to be very different issues, but in reality they aren’t. Also there is a general misunderstanding in the media of the difference between welfare goals and rights goals. It could be argued that the media isn’t aware that there is a distinction at all, since they often call HSUS an animal rights organization, which HSUS itself does not.
A quick and simple distinction: the goal of rights is to end exploitation, while the goal of welfare is to regulate exploitation.
Animals used in experimentation.
Experimentation is always to benefit humans. Even when humans aren’t the sole beneficiary, they do benefit. However the cost is rarely paid by humans themselves. When the cost is paid by humans, the humans being experimented on rarely (arguably never freely) have agreed to their self-sacrifice. The well-known examples where people were given no choice are the medical experiments performed by the nazis in the concentration camps, and medical experiments performed in the American south on Blacks starting in colonial times. What this means to me is that no matter who is experimented on, those being sacrificed are also being exploited, and they are being treated as property or as inanimate objects rather than the sentient beings that they are.
And here I will touch on rights. What right do we have to treat any sentient being as property? I’m not talking legal rights, I’m talking morals or ethics. Religion only works as a comfortable excuse if you think your family’s number isn’t up next.
Beyond the ethics of the situation, medical experimentation is not sound science, and there are alternatives.
Is that the desperate view of an animal rights activist, or is that someone who has actually read the opposing viewpoint? The majority of people never look beyond what the medical corporations flood the media with, and what amazes me is that most people never seem to take a step back and wonder whether there isn’t a measure of propaganda considering the multi-billion dollars at stake in the medical research community.
I, on the other hand, will not gain financially or otherwise, regardless of other people’s views on medical research. PCRM, the second link which has many articles, sometimes gets knocked for having ties to PETA, but whether you like or hate PETA, don’t be blinded to the fact that the biomedical community has an extremely strong financial interest in continuing animal research, and thus are motivated to maintain the status quo and convince people to ignore reasoned alternatives presented by a group of intelligent doctors, such as the Drs. Greek or the doctors at PCRM.
In summary of my vague argument in which I rely on people to do their own open-minded research, I do not think that anyone has the right to experiment on another sentient being, regardless of whether the individual is treated “humanely” during the experimentation. In addition, it is unsound science.
How is this tied into wildlife experimentation?
The first question is: why are we managing the wildlife?
You see, wildlife “manages” itself. Ecosystems are in constant flux, and are always finding their new equilibrium point. Dry year? The vegetation changes, which drives the population of those who rely on vegitation for nutrition, and the changing prey population drives the predator populations as well. It is simple, it is elegant, it is automatic. So what is there to manage?
Humans want to hunt, humans are creating drastic alterations in every aspect of every environment, and the resulting wildlife changes make humans think that there is some housekeeping that needs to be done. It is a sterile climate-controlled world that most humans (at least in the western world) seem to expect. Extermination is the answer when expectations aren’t met and humans come in contact with the sentient beings we share the earth with. New housing development displaces a deer population? Clearly there is a deer “problem” requiring “management,” or so goes the popular thinking. I posted on this earlier and there are other groups out there putting together information on how changing human behavior is the key to “management” of deer populations, for one example.
A dry year resulting in lower prey-species populations? Hunters will be upset, so clearly these populations need to be “managed” to artificially increase the prey populations. Of course the predator populations are destined to react to the prey population NOT the human desire for hunting opportunity, so this will also be seen as needing “management.” Individuals who naturally prey on the animals that hunters want to reserve the opportunity to kill are put on a diet. Numbers are artificially chosen that result in an automatic death sentence (enhanced by radio collars on the predators, allowing easy kills, essentially a canned hunt without the stigma attached to canned hunting) to any animal that dares to eat more than the share the hunters will allow them.
But what about an experiment on the wildlife itself to help them?
Help them…survive drought better (with human intervention) so that there are more for hunters to kill? What exactly is the motivation?
Sometimes it is simply for scientific knowledge, but is the pursuit of scientific knowledge automatically ethical to pursue? This knowledge benefits humans, while the animals being experimented on pay the ultimate price. The specific populations the knowledge is proposed to help would be better helped by humans reversing some of the environmental damage we have wrought and ceasing our interference in the wildlife populations themselves. We consider this (obvious) option only when we have no ulterior motives towards the wildlife populations and the environment they depend on.
On a practical level, no matter the good intentions of some of the researchers, the animals experimented on rarely, if ever, get a comfortable retirement. They are viewed as property, and as such they have an assigned value, which fluctuates based on how “useful” they are. If their usefulness diminishes for one experiment, the options considered are to kill them or to find another experiment which can make use of them. The only time these animals get a retirement is when the animal advocates step in and campaign. This is not always successful, of course. And even when it is, the individuals in question have been forced to sacrifice their lives (and they will never have anything close to what their natural life would have been, no matter the “humane” treatment or subsequent retirement to a sanctuary, if that is allowed) for the supposed “good of the herd.”
This is a utilitarian type argument, where sentient beings are seen as numbers. It is okay to sacrifice some for the better survival of others, is what the utilitarian argument boils down to. But we aren’t volunteering our kids and our parents and our friends, let alone ourselves, for this nebulous greater good, no matter how pure we consider our motives to be. We apply this “for the greater good” (in western society) only to other species.
In summary, let’s leave the wildlife to their own management, and focus our “management” efforts on cleaning up our own acts.