Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter
From 14 May 2001 Issue:
A Former Experimenter Reflects
By: Sandra Larson, M.S.
I had never heard the term "vivisection" when I started my research career. Although I had always considered myself to be a person who cared very deeply about animals, for some reason the suffering of animals in laboratories had escaped my awareness. However, it became very clear to me after only a short time on the job that the things I was witnessing were morally wrong. And it appeared at least on the surface, that I was the only one bothered by these things.
As the months went by, I found myself more and more incredulous that no one else spoke out against the atrocities happening right before our eyes. As I look back on that time, I now realize what I was witnessing was a behavior commonly referred to as ethical blindness.
Ethical blindness is a disease that is caused by many factors in human society--our parents, TV, books, movies, and schools. Members of the scientific community appear to be particularly vulnerable, because from elementary school on through graduate school, medical, or veterinary school, students are taught to view animals as tools or models. If they started out with any feelings -- of morality or right or wrong, regarding the animals they are using -- over time these feelings disappear. In fact, many scientists do not believe that science itself should have anything to do with morality. Indeed, these same scientists take it for granted that moral thought does not apply to animals. More than once, I had argued with doctors in my own research team who actually denied that animals feel pain.
I vividly remember walking out of one experiment where the senior researcher wanted to cut the heads off baby mice with a pair of scissors, because he said would be quicker than anesthesia and they wouldn't feel anything anyway!
How we treat other animals has always been a moral issue. Nonhuman animals deserve the right to equal consideration of their needs, desires, interests, and inherent qualities. Just like us, they are interested in staying alive and being free of pain and suffering. And just like us, they have a right not be exploited or to suffer from a supposedly moral species that has no need to kill or to cause suffering to other animals. This also means they have a right not to be used in experiments.
Animals do not deserve to be locked up in cages, artificially infected with human ailments, or surgically manipulated in research laboratories. But they are, not because they deserve it, but simply because we have the power to use them.
No ethic about animals will be a blueprint for immediate social change. We have too much invested in continuing to exploit animals in our society. But this generation above all others has witnessed the rise of moral concern for the powerless -- ethnic minorities, children, the elderly, and so on. And now the spotlight has finally turned to the animals.
As we move into the next millennium, let us reject all actions that victimize any innocent beings. We now have the chance, in this generation, to change the paradigm of the way humans regard animals for all future generations.
Sandra Larson is a former research associate at Harvard Medical School and other Harvard affiliated facilities.
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