On the University of Florida campus, the animal rights movement has been rekindled. On a weekend in early July, Lisa Grossman and Camille Marino, self-proclaimed animal extremists and members of the group Negotiation Is Over (NIO), were seen handing out fliers offering $100 for the personal information of students who conduct research on animals (see picture below). With this information, NIO seeks to influence students away from animal research by informing them of the consequences of said research: harassment, threats, physical assault, and property damage. Ms. Marino is quick to point out that she is not advocating violence, but is simply warning that it could occur. However, this is merely a smokescreen for Marino to hide behind. She, and others like her throughout the animal rights movement, have embraced violence as a means for discourse in the past for a very simple reason: they feel that animal researchers are immoral, because animals have rights.
Traditionally in philosophy, the justification for animal rights has been their capacity to suffer. Like humans, the animal rights advocates proclaim, animals can suffer and feel pain. Hence, they have the right to live free from that pain. Thus, it is clear to the extremists that researchers who willfully do harm to animals are infringing upon the animals’ rights, and are immoral. And, if there is no legal recourse to answer this immorality (there is not, as properly regulated animal research is quite legal), the extremists turn to intimidation and violence, and are happy to do so. In fact, they feel morally justified in their actions, with the same fervor that any zealot has for his ideals. Of course, that justification is founded on a falsehood: suffering is not the source of rights – reason is.
While every other animal on this planet survives by instinct, man has a nature which is fundamentally different: a man’s means of survival is reason. Instinct will not provide a human the means to start a fire, craft a spear, or synthesize a life-saving drug. Man must be allowed to exercise reason in order to survive, and therefore man has rights which allow him utilize this faculty when dealing with other men. Thus, the concept of a “right” is a moral concept applicable only to human beings in a social context. Animals do not have reason and do not have morality; therefore, they do not have rights. Still, it would be a sick human who would derive pleasure from the needless suffering of other beings, so there are numerous laws and regulations making sure that animal research is conducted responsibly. But, that is not important to the members of NIO, as they are dead-set on the idea that animal research is inherently immoral, and that those who perform should be punished. It is imperative that researchers proclaim the truth, in one voice: we are moral, and our work should be commended.
The value of the sum of knowledge that has been gained due to research on animals, from the lowly fruit fly on up to the rhesus monkey, is incalculable. Basic understanding of the genetics, molecular biology, and immunology of human diseases would be impossible without animal research. Applying that knowledge in an effort to treat or even cure those diseases would likewise be forfeit without animal models on which to generate preliminary data. Additionally, the real, human, benefits of animal research are evident all around us: vaccines which protect from life-threatening viruses, cancer treatments which add years on to a patient’s life, gene therapy for macular degeneration – allowing a person to see again, and a thousand others. This research is not immoral, nor are the people who perform it. To the contrary, these researchers delve into the mysteries of nature searching for understanding, with reason as their sole guide for the journey. And when they return, they apply their knowledge and create something of great value for all of us: extra time to live.
As researchers, we must be proud of our work, and we must defend it as the moral, as the good. These groups think that if we are branded as evil, then their actions will be justified and they can triumph. This is the stance of the NIO, but this is a fight that they cannot win. On their side, they have mere vitriol, fists, and shame. On our side, we have reason, rights, and value – and so long as we have the courage to defend that value, it will not even be close.
Graduate Research Assistant at the University of Florida