Approaches to Anti-Vivisection
In December 2000, the Israeli Committee for Animal Experimentation hosted a conference in Tel-Aviv. The highpoint of the conference was to be an emotional lecture by Prof. Hagai Bergman (of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem) concerning the advances in Parkinson's Disease research achieved through experimentation on monkeys. Bergman himself participated in the research, whereby monkeys were poisoned with the neuro-toxin MPTP, which causes some symptoms reminiscent of PD. These symptoms disappeared after surgery to a region of the brain known as the subthalamic nucleus. At the end of the experiment the monkeys were killed. After describing the experiment, Bergman proceeded to read from the touching story of a PD patient on the suffering involved in the disease and his recovery thanks to brain surgery he had undergone. What Bergman "forgot" to dwell on was the type of surgery that led to the recovery of that patient: namely intervention at a different point in the brain (the globus pallidus, "pale globe") - a procedure that has been known for decades, long before the development of the method where MPTP poisoned monkeys serve as models for researching the disease. A fundamental report by the Medical Research Modernization Committee, analyzing the progress in neurosurgical treatment for Parkinson's Disease and the MPTP model, shows that the progress in treating the disease was not achieved through animal experimentation, and that the MPTP model differs in essential details from the actual disease. Bergman's lecture nicely demonstrates the propaganda techniques employed by the animal experimentation industry. This industry's aim is to center the debate concerning vivisection on the question "Which is more valuable: the life of a human or the life of an animal?" To achieve this, the vivisection industry tries to persuade the public that ("sometimes" painful) experiments on animals have enabled us to cure the diseases that plague our lives, and can continue to do so in the future. On the basis of this factual assumption, the vivisectors ask: "Who do you prefer? The baby or the dog?" I imagine that they're correct in their estimation of which answer most people would give to this question. They're justified in thinking that the general public is speciesist, and that it finds human pain morally more disturbing than the identical - or even more severe - pain of an animal of a different species. Human beings traditionally give more weight to the interests of their own people, country, race or social class, relative to the interests of the other, and this is also expressed in their attitude towards animals of other species. Rightly do the vivisectors assume that man's sense of compassion is usually weaker than his egoistic tendencies. Representing the moral dilemma involved in animal experimentation as a conflict between human and animal interests serves the vivisectors' purpose. It is also very tempting: this dilemma is well-defined, easy to build a discussion around in any group of people, the arguments for and against are readily recognizable, and, most importantly: the debate can be carried out far from the real world, devoid of the social, economic and political context of animal experimentation. In my opinion, it is our place as objectors to vivisection to change the agenda for this public debate, to redefine its basic question, and to reconnect it to the social and political context in which experiments on animals are carried out. One way to examine vivisection in its socio-political context is by seeing who profits from it. One circle of beneficiaries is that of the vivisectors. These earn their living conducting research, thereby gaining professional advancement as well as social status. A wider circle includes laboratory workers, veterinarians, and various functionaries of the research institutes and scientific publications. Additional profiteers are the research institutes themselves, which receive funding, prestige, and in certain cases also register patents on applicative developments. Most of the people in these groups have an academic degree, come from a high socio-economic background, and most of them - especially at the senior level - are men. A different circle of beneficiaries is comprised of commercial companies and their shareholders. Chemical, pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies conduct animal testing in order to meet the safety requirements of health authorities, and to insure themselves against future lawsuits should it turn out that their products are harmful. Consumer culture demands new products on a regular basis, even when safe, familiar products are already available. As a result, new developments, involving animal testing, increase the companies' profits. Finally, lesser-known industries accompany animal experimentation: animal breeders and suppliers, manufacturers of cages and laboratory equipment, and lab-animal food vendors. Vivisection is, therefore, a profitable enterprise. Another way to examine vivisection in its socio-political context is to determine which actions have truly contributed to its intended beneficiaries, according to the vivisectors. If we really seek to cope with disease, we should invest resources in our health system, give everyone high quality, comprehensive medical insurance, instead of creating a society where healthcare is only for the rich. If we hold Parkinson's Disease patients dear, we ought to provide nursing care according to their needs. In the United States, which is apparently the world leader in the field of animal experimentation, the public healthcare system is in shambles, and existing medical procedures are not accessible to many patients. What we should have done, had we wanted to promote human health, is to prevent damaging it in the first place. Investment in a sanitation system could have prevented a major part of infectious disease, which is still one of the main causes of death in the Third World. Reduction of air pollution could have prevented respiratory disease. Education and distribution of condoms and disposable needles could have halted the AIDS epidemic. A change of priorities regarding public transportation, and the encouragement of traveling by train instead of paving more roads for private cars, would have minimized trauma damage from automobile accidents. Enforcement of strict safety standards in factories would have reduced the number of work-related accidents and damage resulting from exposure to hazardous materials. Encouragement of nutrition that avoids animal by-products could have lowered the rate of cancer and heart disease. Understood: all industries seek profit. Social priorities work in favor of those with social power and against the powerless in other areas as well. The reason for the collapse of our healthcare, transportation and ecological systems does not lie with animal experimentation alone. Vivisection is not the only social mechanism that concentrates resources in the hands of well-to-do groups instead of distributing them for the benefit of the entire public, especially for those of little means. Yet the vivisection industry is unique in that while harming the weak elements of society (foremost: animals) and serving those with social power, it defends its own legitimacy with fraudulent claims: it's necessary, supposedly, for the sick and the helpless. Exposing this scam is, in my opinion, the key (or, at least, one of the keys) to abolishing vivisection. Here is where the importance of the scientific argument comes in. We must not allow the Hagai Bergmans of the world to mislead the public. The history of medicine shows - not only in the case of Parkinson's Disease - that animal experimentation has had a marginal role (if any) in advancing medicine. An examination of the methodology of animal experimentation raises serious doubts concerning the possibility of reaching any results relevant to human beings. It's important to be familiar with these historical facts, as well as with the details of the scientific arguments against vivisection. This is a demanding task. It requires study. It requires familiarity with subjects and terms that don't always interest us. Focusing on the scientific argument may sometimes give the impression that, in the hypothetical case where animal experiments would advance medicine, we would justify them. It's important to stress that this is not our intention when we bring forth this argument. All we ask to do is expose the misleading and demagogic character of the vivisectors' claims. Anti-vivisectionists are often accused of emotionalism. The use of heart-wrenching pictures of dogs in wire cages and monkeys in restraining chairs reinforces this image. Understood: it is our duty to expose the public to the horrifying reality of the laboratories. Yet we must remember that when it comes to emotionalism, the vivisectors are more successful than we are. For what is "the baby or the dog" if not an emotional claim? And don't the pictures of the Parkinson's Disease patients which Hagai Bergman screened at the Israeli Committee for Animal Experimentation's conference, target public emotions more than our pictures? All the horror at the suffering of others cannot overcome the terror of the suffering that you may experience yourself. Exposing the suffering caused to animals is therefore not enough. We must back the emotional shock with rational insights. We have at our disposal two rational arguments, and we must not neglect either one. The first is moral: preferring the interests of one individual over another's, just because of his biological species, is discrimination that cannot be morally justified. The second is socio-political: Animal experiments do not contribute to people in need. The use of people in need to justify cruelty to animals is cynical and misleading. Both arguments are not simple. The first has far-reaching implications on our relation to animals in other fields. The second commits us to study. Yet the easy way, of playing on peoples' emotions about the terrible suffering of animals - and nothing more - serves the dialogue the vivisectors seek to reinforce: an emotional dialogue where the distress of humans and distress of animals compete for public sympathy.