Tag Archives: anti-vaccination

Gary Francione: “I don’t believe in vaccinations”

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.

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/SpeakingofResearch

Similarity of Anti-Vaccination and Anti-Animal-Testing Arguments

While reading Edzard Ernst’s fantastic blog I came across a list of “common anti-vaccination tropes” that originated in a 2012 paper by A. Kata.

Ernst anti-vaccination animal testing

What’s interesting is that nearly every argument could be used by an animal rights activist if you simply switch the word “vaccination” to “medicine”. So:

1. I am not anti-medicine, I am pro-safe-medicine.
This is a common attack on animal research, as they claim that they want medicines, but don’t believe animal research helps. This is often conflated with the idea that side effects only exist because  a drug was developed using animal research (as if other chemicals, discovered other ways, would not have side effects). This is silly – all chemicals have side effects, all can be overdosed on, even water.

2. Medicines are toxic
The nuttier end of the animal rights movement sometimes try to reject all animal researched medicines as toxic – since only “natural” or “herbal” remedies will work. I have heard it claimed (multiple times) that homeopathy or herbal remedies can cure cancer or AIDS (see Ernst’s blog). Similar points about adverse drug reactions as mentioned above also apply to this point.

3. Medicines should be 100% safe
Neither animal research, nor human clinical trials can guarantee 100% safety. We all have slight genetic differences. Penicillin may have saved million upon millions of lives, but some people will still have violent, and sometimes fatal, allergic reactions to it. Some people are even allergic to sunlight, you cannot have a 100% safe solution. Sometimes we know how dangerous a treatment is, but we still go ahead with it because it’s better than the alternative (e.g. Chemotherapy to treat cancer).

4. You cannot prove that medicines are safe
Animal research is not designed to say that a drug is safe for mass consumption. It is designed to show that it is safe enough to go to early stage clinical trials in humans. These trials are there to determine if drugs are safe for larger trials.

5. Medicine did not save us
Sadly, no medicines are 100% perfect. Nonetheless saying they don’t always work is far from saying they never work. Certainly homeopathy and other “natural” remedies don’t achieve the success rates of proper medicines.

6 Medicines are not natural.
Firstly, many are (e.g. Aspirin was originally a willow bark extract). Secondly, why does it matter? In the words of Tim Minchin:

“Alternative Medicine”, I continue “Has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work. You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine.

7. I am an expert in my own child
The first and only one on the list that can’t cross the anti-vaccination, anti-animal-research bridge.

8. Galileo was persecuted too
Otherwise known as “Just because animal research is supported by most of the scientific community doesn’t mean you’re wrong”. No, it doesn’t – but it’s a pretty big hint.

9. Science has been wrong before
Yup, it’s been right a lot too. Especially on things with lots of evidence – see entire history of modern medicine.

10. So many people simply cannot be wrong
Blow me down, Dr. Greek, Dr. Hansen, Dr. Menache, Dr. Vlasak, couldn’t all be wrong? Surely it must be the 93% of scientists who believe animal research is essential who are wrong!! This ridiculous argument usually joins the great scientific conspiracy against animals.

11. You must be in the pocket of BIG PHARMA
Again the great conspiracy rears its ugly head – read this great post dispelling that idea.

12. I do not believe that the problems after medication occur coincidentally
This would apply to animal research insofar that it is one of the side effect comments dealt with above. For vaccines this takes a specific turn of blaming autism on vaccines – an idea thoroughly discredited.

Ernst also makes the point that those against vaccines tend to be in favour of “alternative medicine”. So we can see the crossover between the anti-proper-medicine, anti-vaccination, and anti-animal-research movements.



The Human or the Mouse? Would You Flip a Coin?

On March 8th I debated Prof. Gary Francione at Rutgers.

It was an interesting, heated but civil debate, with a somewhat anticipated outcome.

In a few words, we have profound, irreconcilable differences.

There is a deep, fundamental gap between the views of the vast majority of the public and anyone whose moral theory declares permissible to flip a coin in order to decide who to save in a burning house, a human or a mouse.

And this is exactly what Prof. Francione and a handful of his followers (about 5 out of 120 members in the audience) were prepared to do .  Of course, they are right.  They are right in that this is precisely what Prof. Francione’s theory of animal rights demands them to do.  Why?  Because the theory considers the mouse and the human as both sentient beings that deserve exactly the same level of moral consideration.

The root of our differences can be traced down to his position that there are no morally relevant characteristics that would make the loss of life for the human any different than the loss of life for the mouse.  Prof. Francione view is that the same things are at stake.

Here, of course, he stands against the philosophical current:

For example, Peter Singer recognizes that

to take the life of a being who has been hoping, planning and working for some future goal is to deprive that being of the fulfillment of those efforts; to take the life of a being with a mental capacity below the level needed to grasp that one is a being with a future — much less make plans for the future — cannot involve this particular kind of loss.”

Ortega y Gasset explained that

Human life is the execution of an aspiration — a life’s plan.  Human life is a process that cannot be reduced to mere living by satisfying our immediate biological needs.  Humans are not content with living, they need to live well and realize their ambitions.”

and this, of course, is a relevant reason why animal and human interest in life are not similar.

Tom Regan agrees when he writes

“[…] the harm that death is, is a function if the opportunities for satisfaction it forecloses, and no reasonable person would deny that the death of any […] human would be a greater prima facie loss, and thus a greater prima facie harm, that would be true in the case [of] a dog”

In my opening remarks, I presented reasons for why we must reject the animal rights view, which equates the moral status of all sentient beings.  I did this by giving examples of how applying the theory to various scenarios would lead us to behave in ways that conflict with our moral intuitions.  I argued that once we reject this extreme view, all we are only left with theories based on the notion of unequal moral status between animals and normal humans (such as the two-tier or sliding scale model of moral status).  All of these theories allow animal experimentation to various degrees.

I explained how researchers view very concrete situations as being comparable to the burning house scenario, such as porcine heart-valve replacement surgery, the polio epidemic or the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

I explained also why I believe we have obligations to other living beings, but that these obligations do not imply that animals have rights, as they cannot behave as autonomous, rational moral agents in a community of equals.   This, of course, is a point made by Carl Cohen in various occasions.

Unfortunately, there was no effort on Prof. Francione’s part to pinpoint the flaws in my reasoning.  One of the virtues of his theory is that it is extremely simply to understand, extremely simple to apply, and the consequences are straightforward.   My main point was that the consequences of the theory are in direct conflict with the moral intuition of the vast majority of the public and we must reject it.

Instead, his attacks on animal research amounted to a potpourri of classic mischaracterizations by animal right activists of the actual science, our true intentions, and personal ethics, all of which are difficult to address in a few minutes in a debate.

For example, I pointed out to the use of primates in the development of the polio vaccine that has helped to nearly eradicated the disease from the face of the planet and will continue to save lives for generations to come.  The benefits are unmeasurable.  He responded that animals were not truly needed in the development of the vaccine, in direct contradiction to statements by Dr. Albert Sabin.

I noted that there is vast scientific consensus (92% agreement) from both scientists and physicians alike on the necessity of animal research to advance medical science and knowledge.  He countered that, on this matter, the jury is still out.

He criticized the scientific community for not including mice and rats in the animal welfare act (AWA), but his true position was exposed when he declared the AWA “not worth the paper on which it is written”.   Let us be clear: there are no amendments to the AWA whatsoever that would make the research ethical in the view of animal rights activists.

He criticized me for not being vegan, while it is evident that even if all scientists were to become vegan tomorrow the research would still be viewed as unethical in their eyes.  (Incidentally, I think the ethics of animal food can be defended, but this is an entirely different topic and debate).

I clarified that I am opposed to the use of animals for the development of yet another lipstick, but that there is an obvious need to ensure that any chemicals we bring to our homes are safe to humans and animals alike.  I also noted this is not the type of toxicology work done at our universities.

During our mutual questioning I asked him if his education campaign to break the cycle of “supply and demand” of animal food also extended to the benefits generated by animal research, such as vaccines.  In other words, was he willing to ask the population at large to stop vaccinating their children?

He responded that in fact he would not vaccinate his children (he has none, although he did not say if his dogs are vaccinated), and later he clarified his opposition to vaccination rests not only for ethical but other reasons, which he never explained.  I expressed my dismay at his anti-vaccination position.

Many of the questions directed at me by the audience dealt with the question of moral status of animals and humans.  I explained that I do not claim the moral status of all humans is above the moral status of all animals.  A number of questions regarding marginal cases ensued.   I think this can be a productive and interesting discussion to have in society, but it is only a discussion that is possible once we accept the unequal moral status of animals and normal humans.   Clearly, it is not a discussion that is even theoretically possible within the framework of animal rights theory that equates the moral status of all sentient beings.

I had a nice and frank conversation with Prof. Francione prior to the debate.  As he correctly judged, our positions are “miles apart”.  My perception is that he is a good man, with noble intentions, but philosophically he is as wrong as anyone can be.

Both Prof. Francione and I agreed on one thing: the debate was a good example of how passionate but respectful discourse is possible on controversial issues in our society.  I want to publicly thank him for his invitation to debate.

Prof. Francione and I will share a video of the entire event once it is ready.

Dario Ringach