Animals Have Feelings, and Rights


Somebody posted this beautiful piece of art by Katharina Rot on Facebook yesterday, along with the following quote:

“Hunting and fishing involve killing animals with devices (such as guns) for which the animals have not evolved natural defenses. No animal on earth has adequate defense against a human armed with a gun, a bow and arrow, a trap that can maim, a snare that can strangle, or a fishing lure designed for the sole purpose of fooling fish into thinking they have found something to eat.”

The quote comes from the book, “Animals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat Animals with Compassion and Respect“, by Marc Bekoff.

I was reminded of the quote again when I came across the following headline in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Chinese Scientists Created Monkeys Carrying Autism-Related Gene“.

The article notes that the Chinese lab study is the latest experiment in which researchers altered monkeys by adding human genes, to make them better laboratory models than mice for probing brain-related disorders.

I am not a supporter of animal experimentation, because of situations such as the following that was reported in the article:

The altered monkeys express the new gene in their brain tissue, pass it to their offspring, and so far, two generations of the monkeys have shown “similar behavior to human autism patients,” Dr. Qui said. The monkeys are in most ways normal, but are more anxious than their unaltered kin, run repetitively in circles inside their cages, and are less likely to interact with others.

Why would you treat any animal that way, human or non-human? It’s bad enough that the monkeys are kept in a a cage (certainly not their natural environment), but now that their genes have been altered, they have higher stress levels, and run around in circles (and I’m sure those are very small circles since they are caged).

If the reason for using monkeys is because their genetic makeup is close to that of a human, why would you treat an animal that is “almost human” like that?

Marc Bekoff has written a brief, yet thoughtful Statement on Animal Experimentation. Here is an excerpt:

While people might disagree about whether or not to use nonhuman animals in invasive research that is designed solely to help human animals (or, for that matter, to use animals in any sorts of research) and whether or not sentience is the key criterion that should be used in making such decisions, there is no doubt that some of the treatment to which innumerable (uncountable) animals are subjected cause deep and enduring pain and suffering and often death (as in terminal experiments). It’s “bad biology” to rob animals of their cognitive and emotional capacities.

… Wherever animals are used it is necessary to have constant inspection of what is happening behind closed doors by those who have no vested interest in the research project. Detailed reports must be compiled and made available so that people can see what is happening so that scientists realize that they cannot operate under the guise that what they’re doing is “in the name of science” and that nonscientists simply won’t or can’t understand “how science is done.” This sort of arrogance is unacceptable.

Bekoff also wrote an article that called for a ban on using chimpanzees in medical research. Here are some of the highlights from that article:

  • A recent report by the Institute of Medicine examined the necessity of using chimpanzees in biomedical research. The report did not identify any current research field in which the use of chimpanzees was definitely necessary. However, the report did not ban chimpanzee research in the future. This conclusion fails to take into account the moral significance of the emotional and physical suffering of the animals. Most advanced nations have banned the use of chimpanzees in medical research, and the United States should do so as well.
  • In his recent book The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments, Australian veterinarian Andrew Knight draws on more than a decade of research and over 500 scientific publications to rigorously test common assumptions about animal experimentation. He offers revealing insights into the true contributions of such research to human healthcare, as well as the nature, severity and prevalence of the impacts experienced by laboratory animals.
  • Only some 15% of chimpanzee studies are cited by papers describing medical interventions potentially effective in humans. So what is the alternative?
  • (Knight’s) detailed examination of such medical papers reveal that in vitro (cell-based) studies, human clinical and population studies, molecular methods and tests, and genome studies, are by far the most important sources of knowledge. Most chimpanzee studies are, at best, of peripheral importance, and none of those studied by Knight and his colleagues made an essential contribution, or, in most cases, a significant contribution of any kind, to the development of the medical methods studied.

In another article in the Huffington Post, Bekoff and co-author Hope Ferdowsian point out that,

In the past several years, one story after another has revealed the failures in translating animal experiments to human health benefits. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses have shown that findings in animals are not reliably replicated in human cardiovascular, neurological, and infectious disease clinical research.”

Even former National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Elias Zerhouni, a prominent physician and researcher, commented on the problem of relying on animal experiments:

We have moved away from studying human disease in humans…We all drank the Kool-Aid on that one, me included…The problem is that it hasn’t worked, and it’s time we stopped dancing around the problem…We need to refocus and adapt new methodologies for use in humans to understand disease biology in humans.”

Findings like these have led to a shift in the practice of toxicology, toward a more evidence-based standard that relies on human data, in vitro studies, and computational methods that more accurately predict toxic effects in humans.

The Huffington Post article also points out that attitudes toward animals are also changing. As per a recent nonpartisan Pew Research Poll, a solid 50 percent of people surveyed now oppose the use of animals in laboratory experimentation — an all-time high in the public opinion research literature.

Andrew Knight, whose comprehensive reviews on animal use  within life and health sciences education allows him to provide, in polished style, one of the most definitive answers yet published to a question with implications for animal ethics, biomedical research, and society at large, namely,

“Is animal experimentation ethically justifiable?”

And, the answer is a resounding “no”.


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