Last week Dario Ringach wrote on Speaking of Research about the morally repugnant arguments being made by PeTA ‘s Justin Goodman. Dario was not the only one to find Goodman’s arguments unreasonable, yesterday SouthCoastToday.com published a strong commentary by Professor Anthony Garro of UMass Dartmouth, which he has kindly given us permission to post in full.
I am writing to take issue with the guest view “Animal Tests Are Today’s Tuskegee Experiments,” by Justin Goodman, director of laboratory investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which was published in the March 16 issue of The Standard-Times.
The underlying premise of Mr. Goodman’s and PETA’s position is that there is no fundamental difference between humans and animals. This philosophy, which leads to the conclusion that animals should not be used in experiments for the improvement of the human condition, also leads to PETA’s other conclusion that animals (mammals, fowl, or fish) should not be used as a food source or the production of any article of clothing such as shoes. It should be clear to all reading Mr. Goodman’s editorial that according to PETA’s leader, Ingrid Newkirk, “When it comes to feelings like hunger, pain, and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”
The Tuskegee syphilis experiments and other examples of human experimentation, conducted without the consent of the subjects, including those conducted by Nazi physicians, were clearly unethical, and violated the fundamental rights of disadvantaged peoples and prisoners. These atrocities and others that have taken place in our time, led to the U.S. federal statutes mandating that all biomedical or behavioral research involving humans must be reviewed and approved by institutional review boards (IRBs), which are charged with protecting the rights and welfare of the subjects involved. To be sure, human experimentation does take place today. Examples of such studies include the clinical trials that have led to the development and improvement of cancer chemotherapies, studies to develop improved prosthetic devices, vaccines, antibiotics and other pharmaceutical agents, all of which we consider as advances in modern medicine.
It also should be clear that many of the advances of modern medicine, including the development of essentially all new pharmaceuticals, have been dependent upon animal experimentation. And, similar to the ethical oversight of the use of human subjects in biomedical research, the use of animals in biomedical experiments at all federally funded institutions is subject to the review and approval by a federally mandated institutional animal care and use committees (IACUCs). Every IACUC is charged with reviewing all animal use protocols to insure that the protocol is “…designed to assure that discomfort and injury to animals will be limited to that which is unavoidable in the conduct of scientifically valuable research, and that analgesic, anesthetic, and tranquilizing drugs will be used where indicated and appropriate to minimize discomfort and pain to animals.” Mr. Goodman’s assertion that “No experiment – no matter how painful or trivial – is prohibited, and painkillers are not required,” is a blatant falsehood.
I am pleased to see that Mr. Goodman acknowledges the evolutionary relationship between animals and humans. I would emphasize that it is this evolutionary relatedness to humans which provides the basis for the extension of data derived from animal studies to humans and minimizes the need for human subjects in the early stages of clinical studies. Herein lies one of the most notorious contradictions in PETA’s philosophical position, namely, that while acknowledging that animals are closely related in biological evolution to humans, i.e., the biochemical reactions that are fundamental to life are highly related across species, they conclude, despite large bodies of evidence to the contrary, that animal experimentation is irrelevant to human health because of the differences between animals and humans.
I believe that Mr. Goodman’s position, which fails to acknowledge the fundamental difference between humans and animals in our code of ethics, when analyzed critically, would be unacceptable to the vast majority of people. Yet his arguments and PETA’s broad source of popular support indicate that their campaign for animal rights resonates with a large segment of our population. It is my hope that a clearer understanding of where PETA’s philosophy leads, and a better understanding of the manner in which both human and animal experimentation are regulated and conducted, will be weighed against the emotional appeal of PETA’S advertisements, and slogans and their misrepresentation of the manner in which animal research is conducted.
By Anthony J. Garro
Anthony Garro, Ph.D, is provost and vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, and professor of biology at UMass Dartmouth.”
It is great to see another professor who is willing to call PeTA out on their distortions and misrepresentations of animal research. We hope that many scientists will follow Prof. Garro’s great example.
Sadly, due to space restrictions Prof. Garro was not able to expand on his statement that “…it is this evolutionary relatedness [of animals] to humans which provides the basis for the extension of data derived from animal studies to humans”, but a recent news item provides a very nice example of just that…and that will be the subject of my next post on Speaking of Research.