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Animal Activists Go Too Far


By Tanya Dutta

Last December, scientists tried a new treatment for AIDS. They injected immune cells from a baboon into a patient, and then killed the baboon to perform an autopsy. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) went into action.

Researchers had noticed that AZT kept HIV from being transmitted to the fetus in pregnant women. They tried to make the therapy more effective by working on pregnant monkeys, but PETA put a stop to their plans.

PETA and other animal rights activists believe they are being compassionate and easing the amount of suffering in the world. However, instead of decreasing suffering, they are simply trading others' lives for an abstract, ill-defined principle. PETA believes that humans have no rights to use other animals for research because they are being discriminatory on the basis of species, much like racism or sexism. By decreasing the temporary suffering of a few laboratory rats, they are condemning humans to suffering permanently.

Yes, some animals suffer. They suffer from cancer and AIDS in these research studies. But humans suffer from these diseases as well. How can animals rights activists believe they are alleviating the amount of suffering in the world? By saving the animals they are keeping people ill with no chance of hope at life. By using animals for research now, these diseases could be wiped off the earth. Smallpox and polio have already been eliminated due to vaccines first tested on animals.

PETA argues that animal research puts an implicit higher value on human life than animal life. We humans do not have a right to consider ourselves so superior that we can use other animals' live to save our own. We are discriminating on the basis of species. But we already do that. Cat food contains meat including tuna, poultry, and veal. We must have decided at some time that our cats' lives were more important than the animals we're feeding them. By keeping some animals as pets, we are automatically condemning others to suffering. In 1987, 5 million British housecats killed an estimated 70 million small animals, most of them birds. Most indicative our species discrimination within animals is that many treatments developed for our pets were tested on animals. Treatments for canine distemper, feline leukemia, and parvovirus were all developed in animals for animals.

Our bias is even evident in the poster animals for the animal rights movement. How many rats have been used in speeches to evoke compassion? Most of the animals we think of in research are primates and rabbits. Yet federal agencies estimate that of the 17 to 22 million animals used in laboratory research, 85 percent of those are rats and mice.

The situation has improved. Most animal research must be approved by special boards so that animals do not needlessly suffer. The number of animals used is decreasing with the advent of computer modeling and cell culture. Research is being trimmed so that it is both more humane and more relevant. Still, we cannot completely eliminate animal research. No matter how much we try to model the human body on a computer, there are intricacies we do not understand to be able to model them. While airplane structures can be modeled, drugs must still be tested on living things first.

The animals' lives are not being used for frivolous reasons. They are not being sampled as a delicacy, nor is their skin draped around us.

Instead, these animals are used for serious medical research. If animals can be used as food, then surely they can be used for research as well. They function to keep us alive in each circumstance.

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