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.
Good Evening Deb. I appreciate the extra effort you took to post this now. I look forward to reading all the responses from the well-informed groups or individuals regarding animal rights and animal welfare as they pertain to domesticated animal and, especially for my specific benefit, wildlife research. You put forth a good foundation for an informative debate.
I was looking forward to commenting, but I’m not sure I have anything of value to add. I have at various points been criticized for supporting PCRM, but I continue to and one of the primary reasons is that they (almost always–I did see one welfarish campaign earlier this year) campaign for getting the animals out of labs and replacing them more effective, efficient, cost-effective alternatives that are cruelty-free. When you educate yourself about all of the alternatives currently available, your first instinct is to say, “Why doesn’t everybody know about this?” But when you put the pieces to the puzzle together regarding all of the parties that profit from the continuation of animal experimentation, you begin to see why it’s still around. It’s an enormous business machine that reaches into universities, breeding facilities, transportation, grant-making foundations, pharmaceutical companies, advertisers, the government, and non-university -based research institutions.
Finally, if one doesn’t believe that nonhuman animals are ours to “manage” to begin with (and I’m sure we differ here), one wouldn’t advocate experimenting on them to further “manage” them.
Given that animal experimentation most likely will continue, at least to some extent and notwithstanding your best efforts, how best can we limit the vast amount of research that harms animals while realizing it will not be completely eliminated? There are political pressures/voting, choices in what we buy and consume, etc., but what is the single most important tool available to the public to use to limit unneeded animal research?
Hmmm, the single most important tool. I’ll go with what you said: the boycott. And by boycott, I mean you must let the company know why you are choosing not to purchase its products, in addition to educating others and promoting alternatives. We vegans do that in our daily lives by, for instance, purchasing pet food (if we don’t home cook) from companies that don’t test (even if the food has animal products in it). Then there’s providing alternatives for kids in schools (http://www.dissectionalternatives.org/) and campaigning to get animals out of universities and med schools (PCRM does that, too). That’s an easy one. There are lists of charities that test and don’t test, as well as consumer product companies that test and don’t test. I don’t underestimate the power of the consumer dollar (when spent OR withheld and sent elsewhere).
In my experience, most people have no idea that so many products they buy–or charities they give to–conduct experiments that are not even close to necessary (and/or that there are effective alternatives for). And when they do get educated, they’re shocked. Also in my experience, if there are accessible consumer alternatives (and there are in almost every case), they will easily switch.
Ignorance (and I by no means mean that in a bad way) is the biggest obstacle. When it comes to tax dollars (as you know, the military is deeply steeped in the culture of animal experimentation as a viable way to look at issues and attempt to solve problems), yes we can withhold tax dollars if we want to make a life of tax-resistance. Otherwise, again, it’s about educating people to put pressure on those in power and elect those who desire change (like you say). I’m not sure how much faith I have in that process, but it’s what we’ve got so I’m working with it.
I agree with Mary Martin that many people are shock upon being educated about the horror, pain, and suffering endured by nonhuman animals in so many areas: animal agriculture, experimentation, and entertainment. Either that, or they simply shut down and don’t want to hear about it. This reaction of shock or shut down seems to increase with the degree of empathy people for animals. People who are callous to nonhuman pain are generally not shocked, nor do they mind hearing about it.
The problem is with the former group: those who seem to care, but either will not change their personal behavior and habits or will not open themselves to learn more about the issues and why the issues matter.
Another problem is with the focus of animal advocates on single issues. There are countless ways in which we torture and kill nonhumans, and the most significant issue is “food” animals, who account for 10 billion, or 99% of the animals we torture and kill. As long as animal advocates continue to focus on the fringes (like experimentation, circuses, and zoos) and don’t address the root, which is the moral status of animals itself and the (vegan) implications of such status, nothing will change.
If anyone is really interested in straightforward, clear thinking on the issue of nonhumans, their moral status, and how to go about educating, I highly recommend Gary Francione’s thought and work. Francione is a distinguished professor of law and philosophy at Rutgers University. Here is a link to his work (3 books):
For the issue of the “necessity” and business of animal experimentation, I recommend Drs. Greek and Greek. Jean Greek is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Ray Greek is a Medical Doctor. They have nothing to say about the moral issue, only the necessity (or lack thereof) issue.
Dan, as with Deb and Mary, you posit good points that I have already learned from. However, what about “Wild Kingdom” type research? Some of that research is intrusive to animals and to go a step further, most of it performed by State Game and Fish Departments is to manage for sustainable harvests. Is “Wild Kingdom” research, as watched by generations of kids on the Mutual of Omaha sponsored show, okay if the purpose is not for sport harvest?
The question I would ask is: Are you in any way manipulating the lives of the nonhuman animals? For instance, I watched Winged Migration and cried like everyone else. I bought the soundtrack and cried some more. One day, I was watching with a friend who had the film on DVD and (spoiler alert:) I saw how the movie was made and I was FLOORED. There I was, thinking that somehow the vignettes were miraculously caught on tape. Then I learn there was breeding involved for the purpose of the film, as well as many set-ups. My point? I don’t personally know how much of what we see on Wild Kingdom-type shows is manipulated. Though I don’t believe in using animals for entertainment, I don’t personally have an issue with filming something that you haven’t set up and aren’t manipulating. HOWEVER, my perfect-world documentary might not be possible, as once you enter somebody else’s world and they know about it, you have ceased to be a true observer–you have become part of their environment (and a participant), hence altering it from its natural state. In addition, if purpose of the “research” is to aid in management, and not, for instance, to educate kids (rather than having them go to the zoo), I have a problem with that. (All you have to do is watch credits and see who funded the program, and you can tell why it was made.)
In sum: the 2 major concerns for me are intent and level of intrusion/manipulation. But that’s me.
I hope that helps.
I agree with Mary that Deb makes it real hard to add anything to this discussion but I have a few things to add.
Look at Barbaro and that tragedy. A horse was exploited for nothing more than human profits and sporting pleasure and is severely injured. Because this horse has a higher economic value than most horses the owners spend a lot of money and hire the best researchers and vets in the world to try and heal their horse. he does die and people praise the new research discovered from this tragedy. It will save future horses injured in the same way. All this allows is for more horses to be exploited for profit and sport and if they are injured we can save them for more profit in breeding programs. This is animal research done on animals that fails.
A common word used in the animal rights community is speciest. It is putting one species above another. Anytime there is research done on one species to advance another you are placing a value on both species and claiming one is more valuable. This is my entire problem with animal testing (besides it doesn’t work).
So if we followed the same logic and decided to do lab experiments bighorn sheep t help other bighorn sheep were saying one is more valuable than another. We do not cull or test the human herd, so therefore we shouldn’t cull or test another species herd. As much as I would love to “get rid” of a few of my students and it would improve the education of the rest of them, it is not something that I would even think about doing.
Zoo’s do the same thing, by sinking millions, maybe billions of dollars into research to save animals and habitats. They do it at the cost of the animals that they have in captivity.
That said Ron as a friend of Deb’s and a regular reader of her blog. I truly appreciate the hard work you put into all of your work on behalf of the animals of Kofa.
To answer your question specifically, Ron, I’d have to know the specifics of what is being done to see how invasive it is.
As a very generalized answer, I’m an advocate and supporter of rights-based protection of sentient animals, as opposed to a supporter of utilitarian protection. Utilitarian animal advocates would very much consider the proposed benefits and purposes of the research, and that’s true whether the research subjects were human or nonhuman. For me, however, as a rights-based advocate, the purpose or benefit of the research has little or no influence on whether the research ought to be performed, unless it is non-invasive or not harmful to individual animals (such as photography). The relevant question is how harmful is the research to the individual animals who are the subjects of the research. If the research is significantly invasive or harmful to individual animals, then the purpose or proposed benefits of the research takes on little or no importance.
One common misconception about rights-based animal advocates is that we equate human and nonhuman interests in kind and degree. The truth is that we fully recognize that humans have certain interests that nonhumans don’t have (e.g. an interest in education, voting, social reputation, etc.), but we also recognize that there are some very basic interests, such as avoiding serious physical or psychological harm, injury, or death, that we have very much in common with sentient nonhumans, and that nonhumans hold these interests to a very high degree (even overlapping in degree with these interests for many humans), even though they cannot vocalize them. Rights-based animal advocates seek to extend this circle of moral concern, justice, and rights-protection to these specific morally relevant interests of nonhumans, regardless of the proposed benefits gained in violating these interests.
I’ll be logging off soon. If I don’t respond to any further comments/questions tomorrow, I will likely respond on Monday.
I just wanted to thank Mary, Dan, and Rich for their comments, and Ron for continuing his questions!
I don’t have much to add, though I’m pondering the question of wildlife “reality” shows, and what it would take to get unobtrusive actual footage.
I used to have mixed feelings about zoos, still would somewhat defend them, because I thought that they must reach people somehow. But I’m pretty sure they don’t. Or the people they do reach are people like me, who already had an interest in these things and would have pursued it regardless of zoos.
Wildlife photographers know more about the habits of the species in the areas they focus on than my university bio teachers did. And to get their shots, they avoid being intrusive, so I wonder if that could be translated to video.
And that goes back to an earlier point that Mary made, about boycotts and money. TV shows rely on ratings. We can tell those TV shows that we’d watch their shows if we could agree with their video collection techniques.
I should also mention that I don’t think I’ve ever seen Wild Kingdom or any similar show, so my comments are general to what I imagine for wildlife video footage.
Excellent comments by everyone. This is what I expected and wanted from a well educated group who are thoughtful and considerate. I am ignorant regarding many of the points you raised and I will make an effort to correct that ignorance. Please keep posting and encourage others who have yet to post to do so. A lot has been said thus far and the field has been well covered, but a different perspective from others often helps clarify the discussion for me.
Rich, thank you also for that particular comment.
A specific question; was it humane to return the bighorn amputees back into the wild? Should they have been euthanized or put in a zoo?
Hi everyone! Ron, I can’t offer a different perspective because I agree with Deb, Mary, Dan, and Rich. I also very much appreciate your interest.
In answer to your question about the bighorn amputees, I’d need to know more about their limitations. If they were limited to the extent their survival was compromised, I don’t think it was a good idea to return them to the wild. And if they were so limited, but could live with care and without pain, I wouldn’t have agreed with killing them, or consider that euthanasia.
I think a sanctuary would be a better option than a zoo, if it prioritized their interests. Such a sanctuary would not subject them to research or use them to breed more captive bighorns.
Ellie: Yes it is difficult to add to the excellent comments. You all have answered most of my major questions. I did not follow-up with the amputees so I do not know how long they survived.
The questions wouldn’t be posed if the experimental subjects were treated as individuals, and not as replaceable objects.
Would we force a human to unwillingly subject himself to experimentation, if this benefits OTHER humans? I wouldn’t. The same applies to non-human animals. No individual animal should be forcibly subjected to harmful experimentation, even if this means that other individuals of his/her own species will benefit.
Considering the above, it is my opinion that any further questions regarding forced experimentation are superfluous. All animals are individuals, and not replaceable objects.
Regardless of your stance, which I understand and respect, and while your comments did lend an important perspective to the discussion, animal experimentation is not “going away” anytime soon. Therefore, people like me are seeking a threshold of compromise. I realize you are not able to compromise on your animal rights stance and that is perfectly acceptable and admirable. What I glean from this debate will help me and others decide what we can accept and live with. Any such acceptance will most likely measurably benefit animal rights and welfare while realizing that animal experimentation of all forms will never be completely eliminated.
Superfluity is definitely in the eyes of the beholder and I want all the contrary evidence/opinion I can find, superfluous or not.
While I’ve got you, on my blog recently I wrote about a researcher who experiments on dogs. Horrible stuff. For dog food companies. Here’s the thing: I referred to him as a vivisector. He cuts holes into dogs, puts tubes in them which they then live with, and monitors them after trials with various types of grains, etc… The details don’t matter. But a commenter on another blog said calling him a vivisector was slanderous. Is it indeed slanderous? The doctor cuts the dogs open and experiments on them while they’re alive, for months at a time? Is that not vivisection?
I’m the one with the doctorate in Applied Linguistics, so I’m probably more concerned with details of language than most people. What are your thoughts?
I certainly would say the invasive experiment you describe is vivisection and I do not understand how calling the researcher a vivisector was slanderous because it is not a false malicious statement, just a statement of fact.
As a professional linguist, are you in the Descent of the Larynx evolution of speech and language camp?
Whoa. I just looked up another modern meaning of vivisector and it could be slanderous. Your commenter must have thought erroneously of this modern, perhaps vogue definition. Maybe you should now use vivisectionist in the future; I know I will.
Ron, the amputee question is an interesting dilemma in some ways, but I would agree with Ellie about a sanctuary being the best option. One reason why returning them to the wild, where their survival is almost certain to be compromised, wouldn’t be ethical in my opinion is that our actions have interfered with them directly, and they are now our responsibility. A zoo wouldn’t be an ideal option in my opinion because the animals will be subjected to some form of exploitation (zoos need to make money to survive, and these animals might also be used to breed yet more sheep into captivity, or worse. and unethical zoos might sell the old sheep for canned hunts.), and the animals are also in stressful crowded situations, no matter how excellent the enclosures are according to zoo standards.
Of course that leaves the practical question: Does a bighorn sheep sanctuary exist? That I don’t know. A quick google search doesn’t find anything, and I don’t know enough about the Bighorn sheep to know what they would need to be able to guess if some of the existing sanctuaries (for farmed animals and others) would be suitable. The sanctuary near me, Poplar Spring, is both a farmed animal sanctuary as well as a wildlife sanctuary, but it is in rural Maryland, which isn’t exactly Bighorn Sheep country!
I’m curious about the modern definition of vivisector. I looked for one that doesn’t list “a vivisectionist” as the definition and couldn’t find it. Do you have a link to the alternate definition you found?
I want to thank Ellie and Kenneth for joining in, and Mary for your continued participation! And keep asking questions as they occur, Ron. I know I’ve been getting a lot from this dialog!
At NYU, speech pathology was the evolution of the physiology-arm of linguistics. Applied was the evolution of the social, cultural, psycho, and neuro part, so I only know the most basic part of the larynx debate (is it still a debate?). What I have seen is people using the inability of primates to speak (more specifically, to form certain sounds) as a sign that they are lesser than us in some way, hence (being above and superior) we have the “right” to use them. On the other hand, I’ve seen our similarities used as a reason to NOT use them (because they’re so much like us that it seems like we’re experimenting on our cousins!). I find the entire discussion disturbing because we are using US as a reference point, and that’s not fair.
Dictionary.com has “the practice of subjecting living animals to cutting operations, esp. in order to advance physiological and pathological knowledge.” So the Dr. in the NY Times article is indeed a vivisectionist/vivisector.
Ron, when I said “it is my opinion that any further questions regarding forced experimentation are superfluous”, I did not mean that the debate should end. I only meant that when debating with an animal RIGHTS advocate (as opposed to a welfarist) you will find that the rights advocate will unequivocally oppose any kind of involuntary vivisection, no matter the numbers of animals involved, and no matter the degree of suffering. If the question, in the absence of non-animal alternatives, is between vivisection and no experiments at all, the animal rights advocate would unequivocally say “no experiments”.
So I apologize if I gave the (wrong) impression that the debate shoud end. I also appreciate the fact that a non-animal rights person like you is actually thinking and debating such issues in an open way.
Oh, and regarding the “modern meaning” of vivisector…I’m actually surprised that it is now also a Marvel fiction character. However, that should not stop us from using the term in its original (and still widely used) meaning. After all, there is a wrestler who calls himself “The Undertaker”. This has not stopped people calling those who prepare the dead for their funeral “undertakers” 😉
You’re welcome, Deb, I’m happy to be part of this discussion.
Ron, while I agree animal research will continue for many years to come, I do think it’s possible to stop using animals as lab tools. We’ve really just begun to develop alternatives. With time, effort, and respect for animal’s personal intrests, I think more people will realize it’s unethical to subject non-human beings to experiments.
I understood your full meaning and I knew you were not interested in limiting debate; thinking people never are. I also agree with using any word in its correct context by giving the etymological meaning precedence over how some author might choose to “corrupt” the original or how any unskilled reader might misinterpret the meaning based on a fictional character and a very limited vocabulary.
Many animal rights advocates would consider my stance on animal rights as antithetical. I am attempting to understand all the contrary evidence and opinion available from the animal rights’ viewpoint while recognizing I will never be an unwavering animal rights advocate. There are many people, such as who have posted thus far, who keep the other camp ethical enough to seek demonstrable comprise in the absence of total acquiescence.
Ellie: I agree that change only happens when people persist with logical arguments and actions; never cease your efforts.
“There are many people, such as who have posted thus far, who keep the other camp ethical enough to seek demonstrable comprise in the absence of total acquiescence”.
True, but though people like me who would not accept any compromise would be seen by the majority as “extremist”, this only happens because most people either do not believe non-human animals have a right to life, or else do not know what they are talking about when they speak of rights.
To get what I’m trying to say, think of experimenting on black people, or Jews (both have acutually happened in the not too distant past). Would we compromise, and say it is only acceptable to experiment on a limited number of blacks or Jews, and provided that we set them free after the experiments? I think that nowadays, no one holding an abolitionist position in this case would be called “extremist”. The only reason why abolitionists in the case of non-human animal experimentation are seen as “extremists” because they do not compromise, is that non-human animals are not yet accorded an equal right to life and liberty, and are thought of as replaceable commodities.
In questions regarding fundamental basic rights, compromise is injustice.
I understand and accept your strong position. I would only consider abolitionists “extremists” if such persons caused criminal damage or physically harmed another human being under the banner of abolitionism. What we are doing here with discussions and the new laws giving animals more legal protection are the proper ways to constructive change.