The Fellowship of Life
Animals can't say no
by Mary Kenny
From The Tablet dated 5th February, 1983:
Is it morally right to carry out laboratory experiments on animals? I have a friend who is a cancer specialist who says that it is. "It is a horrid thing to have to do, sometimes," she says regretfully. "There are moments when you want suddenly to open up all the doors and hatches and liberate all these poor sick beagles who are being made to vomit incessantly to try out a new drug. But you have to allow your rational instincts to prevail. These animals are helping mankind. If we had not experimented on animals, your child would be more at risk of being gravely ill or even perhaps dying today." If we had not experimented with animals, moreover, women would have been blinded from hairsprays and lead in cosmetics. Housewives would not have safe household scourers and bleaches. One day an antidote to the still fatal poison of paraquat will be found - when enough animals have died in the agony of its peril.
All the same, public feeling runs very deep about animal experiments. As a television critic for the Daily Mail, I have received more letters about these experiments on animals than on any other single subject. And these are not letters which come from eccentric ladies who keep 19 cats or hysterics who write in green ink with every third word underlined. They are, by and large, from sensitive, articulate people, many of whom are committed Christians and feel that there is a moral question here. Many correspondents ask the vital question - how can the means justify the ends? "You will remember the words of St. Paul," writes a woman from Northampton, " 'Shall we do evil that good may follow - God forbid!' " And she reminds me of the words of Sir Douglas Bader - that to ill-treat other creatures just because man is able to do so must be wrong. A doctor in Ealing recalls the words in Luke 12,6: "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?" A woman writes from Wimbledon that the laboratory experiments on animals are simply part and parcel of our exploitative attitude to all weaker creatures, including poor people in the Third World who are now the marketing objects of the big drug companies.
The pictures of suffering animals in laboratories are certainly heart-wrenching: a fox terrier with bone marrow removed; a cat not allowed to sleep - when her head drops, she receives an electric shock; animals wired up to electrodes, baby monkeys deliberately deprived of maternal care to measure the psychological effects of deprivation. People who campaign against abortion are often accused of showing horror pictures of the medically-aborted fetus; in their own way, anti-vivisection photographs can be as distressing. There is, too, some common ground here, by the way; the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child has had some messages of support from anti-vivisectionists who have come to feel that if it is wrong to subject an animal to pain, it is wrong to do so to a small human creature.
Animal morality is not an area, really, where we have a lot of theological guidance. It seems to me that it has never been deeply explored - very probably because laboratory experimentation is a relatively new development. The painter George Stubbs did boil down the carcasses of horses to examine their structural framework, but the animals were well and truly dead before it happened. The baiting of animals for sport - cock-fighting and the corrida - has not, to my knowledge, been properly examined. And there are points where the argument becomes very fine indeed. Some claim that it is cruel to fish - the fish's mouth caught on the hook is the only sensitive part of its anatomy. It can hardly be wrong to slaughter animals for food so long as the slaughter is done without suffering to the beast: but what if the animal has awareness of his impending doom, as herds of cattle and pigs are said to have when driven to the abattoir together?
And then there is the question of benefit to humanity. If a child can be cured of leukemia by drug or laboratory work on animals, does the work not therefore have merit? Spinal paralysis is nearing, year by year, the possibility of a cure, but the scientists studying spinal injury are every day breaking the backs of cats and monkeys in an effort to research further the functioning of the backbone. Young men and women sit paralyzed for life in hospitals like Stoke Mandeville - victims of accidents, largely - waiting for such a cure.
Actually, the morality of the matter was articulated for me with a child's clarity by my eight-year-old son while watching a television news film about minefields in the Falklands. Sheep were being made to tread the fields in advance of the soldiers. "I feel sorrier for the sheep than for the people" he said. Why? "Because the people know what they are doing, but the sheep are not able to be told and they can't say they don't want to do it." A very good point, I thought.
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