The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973



Animals can't say no

Sir: All my life I have grieved over the spectacle of animal suffering and the Church’s indifference to it. So here is a heart-felt “thank you” to Mary Kenny and The Tablet for the article “Animals can't say no”.

It took some courage to write that article and print it in a Catholic journal for, to express concern for animals let alone admit to doing anything for their welfare, is asking for trouble. At best one is regarded as a sentimentalist, at worst a near heretic. “My dear”, they say, “you've got your priorities wrong”. I do not know why, but it's always assumed that one cannot be helping with the RSPCA and also be subscribing to CAFOD, collecting for Christian Aid, supporting LIFE and visiting the sick. One may be devoted to stamp collecting, mountain climbing, Gregorian chant or golf and be accepted as normal but animals – no!

“God loves all that he has made”, we preach, “and we are the stewards of his creation”. What is the quality of our stewardship? All over the world animals are neglected, beaten and starved; cruelly exploited for gain and greed; tortured for sport and pleasure; subjected in scientific laboratories to experiments fiendish in their ingenuity to cause pain and agonising death. Would it not be wonderful to hear the Christian voice raised in protest and if, even once in a while, prayer was made on their behalf and some word of encouragement spoken to those who strive to alleviate their suffering? But on the whole the silence is deafening.

There are some exceptions of course and gleams of hope. Pope Pius V in 1567 excommunicated all who took part in bullfights (did the news ever get to Spain!) Pope Pius XII refused to receive visitors who include matadors among their party. In 1920 Cardinal Gaspari described the so-called “sport” as “human savagery”. Cardinal Manning campaigned against vivisection. Then there was St Martin de Porres (and indeed many another saint) with a tender care for all living creatures. In our own day Dom Ambrose Agius OSB worked and wrote tirelessly for the cause of animal welfare. The Revd Basil Wrighton, a man of profound scholarship, contributes enormously in the fields of theology and philosophy to our better understanding of the subject. The Very Revd Kevin Daley, Dean of Shrewsbury, is chairman of the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare and the editor of its excellent magazine The Ark. The Benedictine nuns of Talacre Abbey, Prestatyn, N. Wales, in addition to their other good works, run a shelter for a wonderful assortment of rescued animals.

May I end with this experience. Last year I had the joy of visiting the Holy Land and, as lector, participated in a beautiful open-air Mass on the Mount of the Beatitudes. As I read those unforgettable precepts and even as I said “Blessed are the merciful,” I saw a dog lying under some trees close by. There was a large open wound on one leg and its eyes and ears were one mass of sores. It was so thin and weak it could scarcely move. After Mass I spoke to someone connected with the shrine. He glanced at the dog, shrugged and said. “Oh there are lots like that.” Blessed are the merciful!

Margaret E. Moloney
The Tablet

Sir: The recent article on “Animals can't say no” by Mary Kenny (5 February) and the subsequent letter from Miss Moloney (12 February) cannot go without reply. It is true that animals are misused and ill-treated in many ways, but I hardly feel that the use of animals in laboratory experiments is one of the worst. There are so many misunderstandings on this topic that I cannot hope to clear up all of them in a single letter. I do feel, however, that many people are unaware of the legislation we have in this country regarding experimental procedures.

Here in the United Kingdom we have a more rigid set of rules surrounding animal experimentation than anywhere else in the world. Before any experiments can be carried out each experimenter requires a licence under the Cruelty of Animals Act. Most experiments carried out under these conditions involve the painless killing of an animal prior to removal of specific body organs for investigation. Alternatively, they involve the anaesthetisation of an animal for the duration of the experiment, after which it is killed. Recovery is not normally allowed because of the likelihood of pain-inducing injury being caused.

Where more elaborate experiments are intended, which may result in discomfort, or pain, for the animal, a special application has to be made to the Home Office for a certificate permitting such work to take place. This application outlines the research techniques necessary for the investigation, and the purposes of their use. If, and only if, the proposed experiments are approved, the certificate is allowed and the experiments may proceed. Home Office inspectors regularly make spot checks on research establishments to ensure that the above code of practice is being adhered to. In actual fact few, if any, prosecutions have ever been made under the Cruelty to Animals Act. This reflects not the lack of vigilance of the inspectors but the fact that research workers, as a whole, take a conscientious attitude to the use of animals in their experiments. In addition the loss of one's licence, and even prosecution, would certainly jeopardise the job of any research worker.

The majority of cases where painful procedures are employed are in research into debilitating or life-threatening diseases, for example rheumatoid arthritis, or cancer. On a personal level, anyone who has seen a close relative suffering from an incurable disease will appreciate the importance of the hope that one day a cure might be found. The cost of animals' lives is indeed high in such research, but this is the price we have to pay.

Dr Anne Brookes

Sir: Dr. Anne Brookes writes (26 February) “The recent article. . . by Mary Kenny and subsequent letter from Miss Moloney cannot go without reply”. I would not presume to speak for Mary Kenny but would be glad to add further comment of my own.

My original letter (12 February) was a plea for Christians to look with serious, prayerful and merciful concern at the problem of animal suffering. Dr Brookes chooses to concentrate on the field of animal experiments in scientific research. She writes: “I hardly feel that the use of animals in laboratory experiments is one of the worst ways of ill-treating animals.” Well perhaps not. Only God knows. Who can quantify pain?

Dr Brookes admits, and indeed, there is abundant, well-documented evidence that these laboratories are places of misery and suffering, sometimes so prolonged and acute as to be reminiscent of Belsen. Torture is an ugly word but I think it accurately describes the infliction of extreme pain without anaesthetisation.

It is true that in the United Kingdom a system of licences, a “Code of Practice” and spot checks by inspectors impose some restraint and curb the worst excesses. (May God help the victims where even these “safeguards” do not exist.) But none of this makes the actual pain experienced any less. Dr Brookes tells us that there are few prosecutions under the Cruelty to Animals Act. Well, there would not be, since activities that would normally be liable to prosecution are, in laboratories, perfectly legal.

However, utterly revolting as it is, all this is acceptable, we are told, since it is for the good of mankind and the noble end justifies the horrible means. Incidentally this “good” seems to include poisons useful for chemical warfare, the profits of the cosmetic industry and the manufacture of cleansing agents since animals are used to test these products.

There is now a growing body of medical and scientific opinion, which repudiates this whole policy of animal experimentation, declaring that the same and indeed better results can be obtained by other methods. Surely here the voice of the church should be of enormous value welcoming, encouraging and supporting these efforts. But do we really care? “Animals”, the theologians tell us, “have no rights and anyway pain and suffering are not in themselves evil.”

Meanwhile Dr Brookes concludes: “The cost of animals' lives in such (scientific) research is indeed high, but this is the price we have to pay." We have to pay! Oh no, we do not pay. The animals do that and as Mary Kenny reminds us, they “can't say no.”

Margaret E. Moloney

Sir: I beg to differ from Dr Anne Brookes (Letters, 26 February). Though quantitatively turning the mammon worshippers from beef production would lessen the massive cruelty to animals of our times, I am convinced that laboratory experiments represent qualitatively the area of the most exquisite torture to animals, most recently including psychological deprivation, atomic radiation and burning.

I would suggest that Dr Brookes, if she was not there, should write to the British Association for the Advancement of Science (23 Savile Row, London W1) for a copy of the papers on live animal experimentation delivered last year, to update her knowledge. For example, Britain is no longer world leader in animal legislation; a list of kinder countries has been recently updated by Miss Viola Huggins to the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals. Besides, what is the use of legislation when it manifestly does not work.

The Cruelty to Animals Act is over 100 years old and was passed when only 200 odd experiments per annum were performed. Now the same number of inspectors (13, and about to be threatened by cuts) supervise several million experiments mostly ending in death; to kill is not kind. Thus unfortunately there is truth in Dr Brookes one statement that few prosecutions have been made under that Act.

“The cost of animals' lives is indeed high in such research but this is the price we have to pay.” Perhaps Dr Brookes would be willing to give a paper to some respectable scientific/theological/medical/legal body putting the case that any cruelty to an animal has ever, even in the case of cancer or rheumatoid arthritis, furthered a cure unobtainable as swiftly by alternative methods, not to mention the recent discrediting of such experiments due to species variation. It is important that reasonable action be taken very fast, not merely because of the violence of some of our frustrated young people acting on emotion but because the EEC is about to formulate a new law even weaker than our Victorian one, allowing, among other abuses, live experiments in secondary school laboratories.

We are a cruel age and as Catholics we do lag behind. Perhaps we forget that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals gave birth to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; we forget our own past when Cistercian monasteries were named as a result of their kindness (for example, Urscamp, where a baited bear was rescued); and when saints like Francis and Anthony preached to birds and fish, like Hubert heard them speak, and like Bernard, Dominic, Benedict, Cuthbert and Gertrude of Nivelles were associated and depicted with, respectively, a sable puppy, a black dog, a raven, an otter and a mouse, while the lesser known St Bernard of the Alps even had a great dog named after him.

Sr Barbara
Department of Church History and Christian Doctrine,
King's College,

Sir: Dr A. Brookes adds little to the present debate on animal experimentation since much of what she writes is incorrect or misleading (The Tablet, 26 February).

It is true that experiments calculated to cause pain are permitted only when the scientist holds a licence from the Home Secretary. It is not true to say, however, “that most experiments carried out under these conditions involve the painless killing of an animal prior to removal of specific body organs for investigation” – very few experiments, if any, fall into this category.

It is also true that a special certificate has to be issued for what Dr Brookes calls “more elaborate experiments” which may result in discomfort or pain for the animal. What is not stated is that, in the vast majority of experiments performed in Britain (over 82 per cent), no anaesthetic whatsoever is used. Even if only one per cent of such experiments caused severe pain that would still amount to nearly 35,000 experiments where the animals' suffering was not relieved.

The fact that there have been no prosecutions has no bearing on the matter, since the legislation is drawn so wide that it is almost impossible for a licensee to commit more than a technical offence. Experiments may continue where an animal is suffering either severe or enduring pain. It is only when an animal is found to be suffering severe and enduring pain that the experiment must end – and it is the scientist who makes that decision.

The whole question of animal experimentation is a moral as well as an ethical and social issue of our time, and if the public are to form a judgement the true facts must be presented.

Clive Hollands
Secretary of the Committee for the Reform of Animal Experimentation

See: Animals can't say no

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