Tag Archives: moral status

Animal Testing. Is it really a polarised debate?

I was recently contacted by a student who had an assignment to report both sides of a contentious issue, and she’d chosen animal research.

To her, there were two sides to the debate – a simple yes or no to research. Yet, as I explained to her, it is not a genuinely two-sided argument.

To understand why, we need to look at the basis of the hardline anti-vivisection viewpoint that no animal should be used in an experiment. This is the position taken by most animal rights groups around the world, from PETA and the National Antivivisection Society, to Cruelty Free International and Animal Aid. The polar opposite of this viewpoint is that animals should always be used in experiments, yet this is never what has been argued by those in favour of experiments in the UK.

Are debates like this really between polar opposites?

Are debates like this really between polar opposites?

To understand the history of the issue, animal research really kicked off in the mid to late 1800s. In 1875, there was a Royal Commission which examined the necessity of using animals, at which scientists including one Charles Darwin gave evidence.

In 1876, on the basis of the Royal Commission, Parliament passed the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876, which demanded that all researchers using animals, as well as each experiment, must be licensed.. There were relatively few experiments even proposed at the time, so the President of the Royal Society was asked to justify the scientific validity of each one. Special protections were afforded to dogs, cats, primates and horses which ensured that they could not be used if another species would suffice.

As time has gone on, the law around animal research has been tightened and finessed. In 1986, the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act made it explicit that animals could not be used if there was an alternative method and in 1998 it became illegal to test cosmetics or their ingredients.

Still, however, the principal of only allowing research conditionally remained at the heart of UK animal research. In order to conduct an animal experiment, researchers need a series of licenses from the Home Office. The experiment has to pass two tiers of ethical review and prove why there is no alternative to using an animal.

If we were to transpose this ethical review system for experimentsto using animals for food we would say ‘it can be ethical for a person to eat a chicken if, for instance, they are malnourished’. Each person who was hungry would have to apply to eat the chicken, explaining also why they couldn’t eat anything else, and their application would be considered by an ethics committee before being rubber-stamped by the Home Secretary.

The key thing here is that this system is different from saying ‘it is always acceptable to use an animal’, which is the polar opposite viewpoint of ‘it is never acceptable to use an animal’.

The ethical difficulty of saying that it is never acceptable to use an animal is that it underplays the value of human and animal medicines which have derived from animal experiments. Indeed, some campaigners wilfully attempt to rewrite medical history to remove the role of animals from key discoveries, but how could you remove dogs from the discovery of insulin? How do you make a drug based on a mouse hormone without a mouse?

Individuals can be against all animal experiments if they want, but they have to acknowledge the harms associated with their worldview. It is similar to anti-vaxxers: it’s your lookout if you don’t want to vaccinate your child, but let’s be clear that you are placing them and others at risk.

Researchers are motivated to act because the victims of disease are not hypothetical. They are the children on the wards of Great Ormond Street hospital, they are people dying in sub-Saharan Africa, they are wild animals, they are your pets, they are your family. The suffering is already happening. Standing idly by and watching them suffer is not a kindness, it’s a negligence.

There are other important subtleties which are lost with a simplistic yes/no approach to animal research. For instance, what do we mean when we say ‘research’? Are we talking about brain surgery, or a blood sample? We know, for example, that some 27% of experiments are below the threshold for suffering; so have suffered less than if they’d received an injection. The degree of suffering is essential to judging the value of an experiment as the costs relative to the benefits are essential to determining value. If I’m offered a ‘procedure’ by a doctor, I’m going to need to know if we’re talking about a blood test or an amputation before deciding whether to go ahead with it.

I think it was worth using animals to develop the badger TB vaccine and the vaccines I give my cat. I think it is worth using a mouse to make a breast cancer drug, because I think the tens of thousands of women who are diagnosed with the condition every year are capable of suffering in ways the mouse cannot. For example, they may be consumed by worry for their children, whereas mice are liable to consume their children. The woman and the mouse are not morally equal except by the most superficial of measures.

However, I want to know that each experiment has gone through rigorous ethical review. I want to know that it is worthwhile. If it is not, I, somebody who is notionally ‘for’ animal research, would agree with those opposed to it. This can only means one thing – the definition of ‘against’ animal research is correct, but the definition of someone ‘for’ it is lacking. Those who identify as being against animal research are generally against all animal experiments. Those who identify as supporting animal experiments are generally only supportive given strict conditions (based on regulation, purpose etc).

I also want to see alternatives to animals testing and research continue to be developed. Animals may well be the best model we have for many bits of research, but I want better. So should you. These would have the potential to be cheaper, and even more reliable.

It’s true that there’s little dialogue between the biomedical community and the now established anti-research lobby and this isn’t surprising since they are effectively having different conversations. The biomedical community is figuring out how to improve animal welfare and is engaged in an ongoing harm/benefit debate. The demands of those opposed to animal research are effectively too uncompromising, too unreasonable, too damaging to the public good to be accommodated.

Their policy asks are all about banning research, which merely sends it abroad (often to places with lower regulatory standards), rather than doubling down on developing alternatives to animal studies which will be the only realistic way to reduce the overall number of animals used in research.

So are pro-research and anti-vivisection viewpoints, polar opposites?

Animal Rights perspectivesNo. The research community is supportive of measures to improve animal welfare while recognising the importance of balancing it with the needs of those suffering from disease worldwide.

Indeed agreement between researchers and the animal rights movement can be found through investment and development of alternative technologies, while accepting that some animals will continue to be needed in the foreseeable future. If only we could focus on that, instead of engaging in a public bun fight between two sectors which aren’t even having the same conversation.


(Some) animal rights philosophers say the darndest things!

Cheryl Abbate is a self-described feminist, philosopher and military officer.  She is currently a Philosophy PhD student at Marquette University and obtained her MA in Philosophy with Bernard Rollin at Colorado State University.

She was one of the animal rights activists who asked  me questions during the discussion of my talk at UW Madison. Ms. Abbate challenged my views on the topic, and we had a subsequent exchange in the comments here, but she has not been very clear where she stands.  So I thought some insight into her philosophy could be gained by looking up her Master’s thesis.

Here is the abstract:

Research on Prisoners: An alternative to animal testing.

Members of the biomedical community justify biomedical research on sentient beings by depicting the benign results which are regarded as necessary for scientific and medical progress, which in turn is absolutely necessary for maintaining human well being. Rather than take for granted that the burden of biomedical research should rest only on nonhuman animals, I will explore whether or not there is a more appropriate class of sentient beings that we should conduct our biomedical research on. I will argue, based on utilitarian principles, that if we can maximize overall happiness by conducting our research on a different group of beings, then we should opt to conduct our biomedical experiments on these beings. My central proposal is that our decision to experiment on nonhuman animals is not the best alternative available; rather, if we were to experiment on violent criminals, we would increase overall happiness. Since conducting biomedical research on this particular group of prisoners would fulfill the aims of retributive punishment, deter violent crime, and procure optimal scientific results, we would produce the maximal amount of benefits by experimenting on these transgressors. Thus when faced with the choice to experiment on either violent criminals or nonhuman animals, the morally commendable decision would be to perform research on violent criminals.

human trials

Sometimes animal rights philosophers say the darndest things!

What else does she think it would maximize our happiness? What about killing humans instead of mosquitos to achieve human population control?  Would that maximize happiness as well?  This does not seem unthinkable, as she holds human beings in very low regard.  In fact, she writes:

So, if we really want to make an interesting comparison between the harm of animal death and human death, why don’t we start by asking the question: “is it a greater harm, for the world, if humans or animals die?” In answering this question, we just might find that we should save the dog from the fire over the human being who is bound to live a life of destruction.

It is difficult for me to think of any other social movement that expresses so clearly a self-hatred for human life.  Some animal rights extremists are indeed more concerned with hating humans than loving animals.  It is not a movement based on compassion.  It is one based on hate towards fellow human beings.

This provides some basic background as to Abbate’s philosophical tendencies. If you are interested, and have the stomach for it, you can read the whole dissertation here.

This  introduction aside, the most serious charge she brings to my presentation is that I misrepresented the animal rights position. I reject the charges. Instead, it seems to me that she simply has some trouble living with the consequences of the theories.

In my talk briefly described a couple of dominant animal rights theories.  One based on a minimum level of sentience and another on the notion of being a subject-of-a-life.  I said that such theories are based on the shared postulate that we owe the same level of moral consideration to all living beings that cross a certain threshold.  I then applied the theory to different scenarios.  I noted some absurd conclusions that they lead to, such as the call to flip a coin between a mouse and a human when deciding who we will save in a burning house.

As a matter of fact, some activists in the audience willfully accepted the conclusion of the theory. I did not force anyone to raise their hand. I also noted that the same animal rights philosophers who proposed the theories are unable to bring themselves to follow this conclusion. Instead of taking the next logical step of rejecting their own theories, these philosophers came up with some vague “extreme circumstances”, or as Abbate calls them “genuine conflicts”,  where showing a preference for the human might be justified.

However, the theories do not clearly define what such “extreme circumstances” are.  A minimum requirement is to amend the theories to include a specific definition of when our moral consideration for normal humans can be higher than that of other living beings.

That such “extreme circumstances” outside the burning house scenario can be used to justify some types of animal research was already recognized by Peter Singer (1986) who challenged Tom Regan to consider:

 […] that a new and fatal virus affects both dogs and humans. Scientists believe that the only way to save the lives of any of those affected is to carry out experiments on some of them. The subjects of the experiments will die, but the knowledge gained will mean that others afflicted by the disease will live. In this situation the dogs and humans are in equal peril and the peril is not the result of coercion. If Regan thinks a dog should be thrown out of the lifeboat so that the humans in it can be saved, he cannot consistently deny that we should experiment on a diseased dog to save diseased humans. (Singer, 1986).

To be fair, when pressed, Abbate did offer  her own definition of what she means by “genuine conflict”:

“A genuine conflict, to me, is one that arises in nature and which we have not generated by using one being as a mere thing in the first place.”

So what about cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, AIDS, depression and the myriad of terrible diseases that affect us all?  Are they not natural enough for her? Apparently not. Ms. Abbate believes that many of these diseases are a direct consequence of our personal choices: “People have cancer because they eat meat” — she explained during my talk.

She is anti-vaccination as well: Since I have become vegan, I do not get vaccinations nor do I take any medication that is not natural (in fact, I haven’t been sick in the 4 years since I’ve been vegan- imagine that!).” She quickly adds But let’s say I do get into an accident and need some medical procedure that was developed from animal research. Yes, I would go ahead and accept medical treatment […]”.  In other words, she only envisions her health deteriorating in the case of an accident and not due to her choices or any other external factors.  (Are genetic risks and the environment a child is raised in accidents too?)

It is not the first time we have seen animal rights activists willing to be saved by animal research.  Indeed, there is nothing like being in a life-threatening situation to conveniently dump your moral principles at the curb.

But I digress…

Going back to my talk — I asserted that once we reject the extremes (the Cartesian and animal right positions) that all the remaining moral theories between the extremes are different versions of “animal welfarism.”  All of these are based on the notion that animals deserve our moral consideration, but not to the same degree than normal human beings. This wide range of positions allow plenty of room for disagreement.  I accepted that these theories are more complex and nuanced, and can sometimes lead to difficult moral dilemmas with no obvious solutions, but I asserted that they all allow for animal experimentation in different degrees.

The problem is that a moral universe that includes legitimate dilemmas is not one animal rights activists could tolerate living in.  That’s a proposition that crashes against the certainty of their perceived righteousness. And that is exactly our problem, as pointed out by Bertrand Russell:

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.”

In this regard, animal right extremists are no different than any other zealot.  Uncompromising and rejecting any potential resolution to moral disputes that includes  civil debate within society.  Instead, they self-apoint as legislators of the moral code for the rest of us.  And yet, they represent a minuscule, marginal faction of our society.

I am reasonably certain that I have represented the animal rights position  accurately.  One reason is that the response of respectable philosophers to my writings has not been “you misrepresent the animal rights view,” but rather that my argument constitutes “the best-argued defense of animal research I’ve yet seen” — as Peter Singer wrote to me in an email. This does not imply the arguments are correct by any means, but at the very least they must be reasonably clear and  intellectually honest.

What is your moral baseline?

I was recently invited  to offer a moral justification for the scientific use of animals in medical research at the University of Wisconsin.  After the talk we had over an hour of discussion where we saw everything from some thoughtful questions to nonsensical ramble.

I presented an argument and I expected direct attacks on those arguments. Unfortunately, when some activists find it difficult to attack an argument they quickly change the topic at hand.  In this case, for example, one member of the audience decided to challenge me with the following:

“Are you vegan?  Yes or no!”

I looked back at my slides.  The title of my talk was: “The moral dilemma of animal research.”   It was not “The moral dilemma of the cheeseburger.”   Apparently, even though I was invited to defend the work of medical scientists, I was now being asked to defend the work of fast food companies too. So, I first asked for the reason behind the question.

Because “Veganism must be the moral baseline!,”  he asserted.

I did not see how me being vegan or not was going to prove any of my arguments as being true or false. In any case, I offered what I think was an honest response (Briefly: No, I am not vegan, but I do have serious ethical concerns about how we raise food in this country that have prompted me to modify my behavior.)

What seems curious in retrospect is that if animal rights activists truly hold veganism as a moral baseline so close to their heart, why is that it is not exactly the topic at the very top of their agenda?

Why did animal rights activists demand the creation of a UW forum on the ethics of animal research instead of one the ethics of the cheeseburger?  Doesn’t their moral baseline dictate that one should first ensure everyone switches to a vegan diet above everything else?

And why was the individual that asked the question passing flyers before my talk objecting to the use of animals in medical research at the university, instead of, or in addition to, passing flyers objecting to the use of animals in food?

And why is PeTA devoting huge resources on a campaign against the use of animals in research at the UW, instead of mounting a campaign against serving cheeseburgers in Wisconsin’s taverns?

And why does this individual regularly demonstrate at the farmer’s market against research that has the potential to alleviate human suffering, instead of confronting those that sit right across from him selling bison, fish, beef and chicken, and their customers?

It just does not make much sense.

In contrast, my presentation hinged on a different moral baseline, one that defends the idea that it is ethically permissible  to save the life of a human over that of a mouse in a burning house.  I went on to explain how a very similar dilemma arises in various medical scenarios, including in animal research.

What would animal right activists do when confronted with the burning house scenario?

“Flip a coin!” was the response of the animal rights activist that inquired about my veganism earlier.

And yes, he was serious.

He is not alone. This is the same awful choice that Professor Gary Francione made when challenged to behave in a way consistent with animal rights theory.

This choice is hardly the result of having a moral baseline.  It is the outcome of stepping on a moral abyss.  Animal rights theory has no moral platform to stand on.

Discrimination can arise in two settings.  It can happen if we treat differently living beings who are equal in all morally relevant ways. But it can also occur if we insist on the equal treatment of living beings who differ in  morally relevant ways.

To insist in equal moral consideration of a mouse and a normal human being in a burning house is a form of reverse discrimination. It appears to be more an expression of human hatred than animal love.  A colleague of mine suggested the term “animal supremacism” to refer to this form of discrimination.  I have to say that it sounds not too far away from the truth.

Consciousness and Moral Status

A group of scientists recently gathered at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference and issued the following declaration which as been widely covered in the media:

The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.

Their good intentions duly noted, this is not a declaration of a scientific fact.

The truth is that we have no idea what a “conscious state” is.  We do not know what neural substrates “generate consciousness”.  We do not know how to recognize what is “intentional behavior” and what is not.  We do not know if consciousness if a property that arises only in biological systems. Nor do we know if consciousness is a binary or graded property. These are all open questions. Any assertion that non-human animals are capable of exhibiting “conscious states” as those experienced by humans is at best a working hypothesis based on vague concepts that need to be clarified.

Note that if we truly had the scientific knowledge and understanding to back up the declaration we should be able to answer the following simple questions.  Is a fly’s escape behavior to a swat intentional or a mere reflex?  What about single-cell organisms that follow up gradients of nutrients?  Are they conscious?  Is their movement towards the food intentional?  The authors must surely have a way to answer these questions to have decided to include the octopus in their list of conscious animals, while leaving the salmon out.  But they do not really have an answer.  If we had one we could also offer a resolution to one of the biggest problems in philosophy — the problem of other minds.  PZ Myers already offered a similar criticism of the declaration and I hope other scientists will jump into this debate as well.

Of course, there are animal activists that had already reached the conclusion that animals are conscious simply by staring into their eyes, they mockingly applaud the new recognition by this group of scientists, and move on to suggest the following:

Some of the conclusions reached in this declaration are the product of scientists who, to this day, still conduct experiments on animals […] Their own declaration will now be used as evidence that it’s time to stop using these animals in captivity and start finding new ways of making a living.

Is this so?  Can the declaration, assuming it is scientifically valid, be used to argue in such a way?  This may be possible if and only if one accepts the following assumptions.  First, that the declaration means that consciousness is a binary property — either you have it or not.  Thus if animals are conscious they are conscious to the same degree as a normal human (thereby denying the possibility graded levels of consciousness). Second, that consciousness is the only morally relevant property that determines the moral status of a living being.  If one accepts these two assumptions the moral status of human and non-human animals ought to be the same. But both assumptions are wrong.  Not even the scientists involved in the declaration would agree with the first assumption.  People do not think we owe the same moral consideration to the serial killer and to the Dalai Lama, although both are equally conscious. Similarly, we reject the notion that the moral status of a patient in a minimally conscious state is the same as that of a worm. Thus, consciousness alone is insufficient to establish the moral status of living beings.

Opponents of animal research continue to insinuate that the only reason for scientists to experiment on animals is because it supports our livelihood.  No, this is not the real reason. The reason for this work is that humans have ability to reduce and eliminate suffering from the world by means of their scientific work.  Due to current limitations in technology, in some cases, medical research cannot move forward without access to living organisms at the level of single cells and even molecules. Scientists acknowledge that we owe moral consideration to other living beings, but not to the same degree as human life.  We do confront this moral dilemma by carrying out the work while minimizing the number, pain and suffering of animals subjects.  Opponents of animal research, on the other hand, readily ask us to stop the work, but fail to provide a moral justification.

Frans de Waal’s Ethical Arguments Need Clarification

In a recent perspective, Professor Frans de Waal argues that chimpanzees deserve “special moral status.”  The statement comes on the heels of a recent report by the Institute of Medicine who proposed strict criteria on the use of chimps on biomedical research.

According to de Waal there are compelling ethical reasons to ban all invasive work on chimps, but he argues that one should “not throw out the baby with the bathwater by also curtailing non-harmful behavioral research” as well.  He defines ethically permissible research in chimps as “the sort of research I would not mind doing on human volunteers.”

While Prof. de Waal ought to be applauded for sharing his views on the use of chimps in scientific research, I think he moves too fast through weak and vague ethical reasoning to reach his main conclusion.

Opponents of animal research, for example, are likely to point out his definition of ethically permissible research should read instead “the sort of research [one] would not mind doing on human volunteers who also agree to live in captivity in the same conditions as the chimps.” 

They will also point out that human subjects that volunteer in scientific research, whether invasive or behavioral, provide their informed consent.  Moreover, human subjects retain a right to withdraw their participation at any point in time, and they are never deprived from their liberties and freedom.  Opponents of research will further argue harm comes to these animals by the mere fact they are forced to live in captivity.

It is unclear how de Waal would defend his work from the stated position in his perspective. Perhaps the “special moral status” de Waal wants to grant to chimps and other great apes is not meant to be interpreted as including the same basic rights to liberty and freedom as those enjoyed by humans.  If so, he should state this clearly.  His position is vague and confusing because in the same perspective he seems to approve some countries granting great apes legal rights.

There are other problems that emerge from de Waal ill-articulated ethical position.  He states the basis for awarding great apes special moral status is based on their high cognitive skills, as well as their capacity to display empathy and pro-social behavior. At the same time he believes the same intrinsic properties are present in varying degrees in other species — there are many differences between chimps and monkeys in cognitive capacities, but we consider them mostly gradual differences.” Given such graded abilities it is not clear how de Waal would draw a line between those species that deserve such “special moral status” and those that do not.  Or if there are other morally relevant properties that he did not mention.

Finally, I think de Waal correctly points out that humans should not be allowed to blame nature to explain our history of violence, warfare, and male dominance.  The reason is that only humans are capable of reflecting on the question of how is that we should treat others, including non-human living beings.  Yes, we have a moral obligation to consider the interest of other living beings in our actions.  But, as Carl Cohen explained, we should not confuse our moral obligations to other living beings with them having basic rights. Rights entail obligations, but the reverse is not always true.

There is wide agreement (and I concur) that the interests of great apes deserve high moral consideration, more so than those of a mouse or a worm. But it is worth noting that such principle of graded moral status is already implicitly acknowledged in the NIH guidelines which require scientists to use the “lowest” possible species that can yield the information they seek.  In this regard, the IoM panel finding that there is only a minimal need to use chimps in scientific research is not a truly reflection of their inadequacy to model disease (chimps could certainly be used in many studies to answer good scientific questions), but of our existing recognition that they deserve high moral status and that they can only be used under the most  extreme circumstances.

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