ANIMALS MUST DIE SO PEOPLE CAN LIVE
(reprinted from the Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Demonstrations against the use of animals in medical
research bring out some interesting personalities. The
demonstrators are all vegetarians, because one cannot object to
killing animals for medical research while continuing to eat
them. And since more than 90% of animals used in medical
research are mice or rats, animal rights zealots should never use
Demonstrators wear rubber-soled canvas shoes, and if the
weather is cold, woolen, not leather, gloves. And since research
on contraception medication involves the use of rabbits, most of
the women in the groups probably are pregnant.
None of these demonstrators would have been immunized
against polio-myelitis, diptheria, whooping cough or other
childhood diseases, or cured of potentially fatal infections by
antibiotics. Accident victims, salvaged from death by blood
transfusions, are disqualified from participation, as are
diabetics who depend on insulin for their continued existence.
Responses to these medical situations required animal research.
Anyone with a prosthetic joint, a transplanted kidney or
a cardiac pacemaker, or a history of heart surgery, chemotherapy
or immunotherapy for the treatment of cancer or of successful
treatment of glaucoma, could not, in good conscience, represent
him or herself as an opponent of the use of animals in biomedical
research. Relatives of those with Alzheimer's disease must
disqualify themselves as marchers, since current research on
monkeys may eventually suggest effective ways to treat this
One would not expect protesters to bring along their pet
animals, since most domestic pets are protected against
distemper, infectious hepatitis, parasites and even rabies by
medications perfected through animal experimentation. And since
the 100 million cats and dogs in North America are carnivores,
requiring food obtained by killing other animals, pets must keep
a low profile to avoid the charge of hypocrisy.
For consistency, one would expect animal rights groups
picketing rodeos, where animals are mistreated for
entertainment. And why not release cattle from slaughter houses
where they are killed without general anesthesia?
The conscientious objector must also refrain from eating
animal flesh, but must also protest against others eating it.
Fourteen million dogs, more than one third of the total
dog population in North America, are destroyed in public pounds
and animal shelters. Animal pounds and humane societies engaged
in animal control kill more than 50 cats and dogs for every one
that is sacrificed for research purposes.
Although computer simulation, test-tube experimentation
and tissue cultures are gradually supplanting some types of
animal research, it would be a serious error to suppose that such
alternative techniques will soon be available for all research
that now uses live animal subjects. No other method can fully
replace the testing of a drug, a procedure or a vaccine in a
Successful alternatives to some types of animal-related
research have indeed been developed in the last decade, with a
40% drop in the number of animals used in research between 1968
and 1978, with still further reductions since that time.
The human body, however, is far more complex than a
tissue culture, with physical and chemical interactions that
cannot be reduced to a computer programme. Just as a new type of
aircraft can be tested in a wind tunnel but must eventually be
tried out by a test pilot, a new surgical operation, a new drug
or new treatment must be tried on the first human being.
Who among healthy protesters would volunteer as a subject
for the study of AIDS? This disease must be studied in an
environment that provides for an immune system found only in a
The dispute regarding the use of laboratory animals has
heightened the research community's sensitivity to the need for
strict safeguards against pain and suffering when conducting
experiments. Let us hope that reason will prevail, and that
these well-intentioned efforts will not bring biomedical research
to a state of virtual paralysis as it has in England.
John A. Kirchener Ph.D.