When my colleagues and I were first confronted with violence from animal rights groups we were offered the following justification:
“… direct action is the only choice available when all other attempts at open discussion are brushed off. The university’s resistance to public discussion is proportional to the frustration it engenders by doing so. To those awakened to this holocaust, inaction is morally responsible. Escalation [of violence] seems sadly inevitable in light of the university’s refusal to talk about the suffering within its laboratories.”
Clearly, these activists feel in possession of a moral upper hand. In their mind, your refusal to talk to them in their terms justifies the use of violence against you and your family.
The above was written in an article by Rick Bogle entitled “Hiding Jews and Throwing Rocks through Vivisectors’ Windows: Hallmarks of Heroism” in response to the vandalism and attack on one of my colleagues.
Mr. Bogle is the founder of the Primate Freedom Project, a former advisor to the Animal Liberation Front Press Office, and now works for Alliance for Animals in Madison, Wisconsin.
These activists’ views are wrong on multiple counts.
First, moral disputes in our society cannot be possibly settled by means of violence. If we allowed this, a democratic society as we know it could not exist. For example, in my experience, most animal right activists are pro-choice when it comes to abortion issues. I seriously doubt they consider the killing of abortion doctors, or even the harassment of abortion providers in their homes, by pro-life supporters acceptable. Nor they will likely accept the intimidation and beating of individuals because of their sexual orientation. Paradoxically, when it comes to their own cause, they see the violence justified.
Second, it is a fact is that these activists and the public have ample information in the NIH, FDA and CDC web sites that explain the scientific rationale for the use of animals in biomedical research. The information was available (still is!) that explains why we, as a society, have decided that this research is important to the advancement of medical knowledge and the federal and sate guidelines that are in place to ensure the welfare of the animals in the process.
But, as confused as these activists are about the science, they also bring with them an ethical complaint. They argue that, independent of the benefits of the work, the use of animals in research is unethical and should stop immediately. The reason is simple: they believe all living beings as having a basic right to life and freedom that we should respect.
I was initially surprised to discover little to no discussion on the ethics of animal research in the resources listed above. Perhaps I should not have been… after all, the USDA does not include a moral justification for the use of animals in our food chain either.
However, I noticed with some sadness that, except for a handful of accounts in the literature (such as the Cohen and Regan debate), the voice of scientists seemed largely absent from the ethical debate.
We must bring our voices to bear on the ethical debate. We ought to explain the public not just the scientific basis of our work, but also why we see it as morally permissible. It was with this in mind that I participated in two recent debates and organized a symposium on animal cognition.
In my conversations with opponents of Animal Research I have learned about many of their key objections to our work. I have now published a symposium article in the the American Journal of the Medical Sciences summarizing some of my personal views on both the scientific and ethical objections to animal research, which can be read here.
I know not all colleagues will necessarily share my thoughts on all these issues. I encourage everyone to voice their views as well.
The public and our society will benefit from having scientists’ voices heard.