We previously discussed the anti-vaccination stance of a member of the animal rights group “Progress for Science”. The fact that this individual prefers oregano oil, ginger, garlic, and other herbs over vaccines did not come as a surprise. We have already noted the strong similarities between the arguments espoused by the anti-vaccination and animal rights groups. But you may be asking yourself — just how prevalent is the view among animal rights activists? It turns out the position can be traced all the way up to prominent academics, such a Professor Gary Francione:
Yes, you heard right (play it again if in doubt) — Rutgers Law Professor Gary Francione does not believe in vaccinations. He is not alone. The exuberant applause he receives comes from animal rights supporters in the audience, and you can easily judge there are no shortage of them.
How could this be? You would think that any reasonable person who looks at the data ought to conclude that childhood vaccinations do in fact work and that, without any shred of doubt whatsoever, they save thousands and thousands of human (and animal) lives each year.
Take a look at the incidence of measles and diphtheria over the last decades, for example, and notice how the numbers drop precipitously as vaccines for these illnesses were introduced. You can find similar graphs for many other common diseases.
If Professor Francione had any children he would not vaccinate them. What about those who have children? Does he truly understand what would happen if the public were to follow his recommendation? The data say that millions would die each year.
It is shocking that a respected scholar offers a view that is nothing short of a pubic health hazard. It is mind-boggling that anyone who calls himself compassionate would put the lives of so many children at risk. What kind of meaningful ethical discussion can one possibly have with those who blatantly reject scientific facts and deny past contributions of the work to human health?
One must also recognize there is something ludicrous about the entire situation. On one hand, many animal rights activists deny the benefits of animal research. On the other, they work extremely hard to argue they should be entitled to the benefits of the very same work they oppose.
Thus, we see hear Professor Francione say he does not believe in vaccinations (and other pharmaceuticals?) and but elsewhere he writes —
[…] Those who object to animal use for [animal research], however, have no control as individuals over government regulations or corporate policies concerning animals. To say that they cannot consistently criticize the actions of government or industry while they derive benefits from these actions, over which they have no control, is absurd as a matter of logic. (Francione 1995, 181).
No, it is not absurd. While it is true he may not have control over government actions or policies he does have control over his healthcare and that of his family. In fact, he exemplified for us how he would exercise that control by not vaccinating his children.
Consider the following analogy. Suppose you are a social activist who forcefully opposes child and forced labor practices. You discover that a particular US company manufactures its products overseas under deplorable labor conditions. Would you still buy form such a company or boycott its products? Is there any way in which you can say that you morally oppose forced labor but argue you are nevertheless entitled to benefit from the cheap prices the company has to offer? If you were to buy from such a company can you be surprised if someone called you a called a hypocrite? After all, would be supporting, financing and perpetuating a practice you consider immoral and advocate against. It makes sense to argue the same applies to animal research.
Many animal rights activists may respond the analogy is not adequate because, in the case of refusing healthcare derived from animal research, the outcome may include death, instead of the more mundane consequence of not purchasing the latest smart phone. This would be a curious argument coming from those who fail to acknowledge the benefits of the research in the first place. Nevertheless, in objecting in such a way they would be making our case — animal research saves lives. Herein lies the moral dilemma opponents of research who refuse to confront even when it is their own lives that are saved by the work of biomedical researchers.