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From the issue dated January 20, 2006

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Sacrificing Animals to Benefit Humans

To the Editor:

There are scientific issues that weaken Colin Blakemore's arguments (Mélange, The Chronicle Review, December 2). For example, there are numerous examples of our having learned about human brain function through ethical experiments on human beings....

When people say that we could not have done certain things without the use of nonhuman animals, or that we could not continue doing these things, that is not strictly true. Anything we have done using other animals could also have been done using human beings. However, to subject human beings to most of the things to which nonhuman beings have been, and continue to be, subjected would be immoral....

If we find it morally repugnant, and rightly so, to do certain things to human beings despite the potential for enormous benefits, then we should find it equally repugnant, by our own standards of morality, to do these things to other beings....

Nedim C. Buyukmihci
Professor Emeritus of Veterinary Medicine
University of California
Davis, Calif.

***

To the Editor:

I read with interest the views expressed by Colin Blakemore on medical experimentation. I do not share them.

For a number of years I also rationalized that sacrificing animals for the benefit of man was justified. However, I came to see the flaws in that rationalization. Why should healthy and feeling animals be killed so that man could live longer or overcome some disease? Earth is for all living and nonliving systems. The main reason that animals are killed for the benefit of man is mankind's power of life and death over them.

I felt ashamed of the work I had been doing with rodents and dogs in drug research, and I chose to pursue activities in which I was not complicit in the destruction of innocent animals under the pretense of doing good.

Morris Givner
Retired Associate Professor of Medicine
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia

http://chronicle.com
The Chronicle Review

 

From the issue dated December 2, 2005

MELANGE

Medical Experimentation

I have enormous respect for people who simply say that they don't care about the range of benefits which are the result of animal experimentation; they don't deny that there have been these benefits, but they don't want any part of them because they think that animal experimentation is wrong. ...

However, I have very little respect for people who say that animals are so very different from human beings that animal research has no relevance for understanding humans; or that all treatments which have been developed on animals are dangerous to humans; or that animal researchers enjoy what they're doing, that they are basically sadists and that, anyway, it is only really about filling the pockets of the drug companies. This is not a parody of the kinds of arguments which are made, and I have no time for them. They are rationally indefensible. If there are alternatives, let's see them. We want them. I don't know of a single person who uses animals in his or her research who wouldn't rather use an alternative. Moreover, there is a great paradox here: The alternatives to animal research which do exist have been developed by researchers who have previously experimented on animals. I've had grants to develop alternatives, I've done a lot of work on tissue cultures, and I use computer simulations for a lot of my work, yet I'm accused of being a villain because I've also experimented on animals. ...

I think it is necessary to learn the lessons of history. I remember that after the first heart transplant there was intense criticism from the church, civil libertarians, medical ethicists, and the animal-rights lobby. People complained that the original research had been done on pigs; that the procedure was a dangerous experimental technique; and that it was possible that patients were being coerced into undergoing transplants. All the same kinds of arguments that we hear now were being played out then. But people today think that heart transplants are a medical miracle. The public completely accepts the procedure. Social and moral attitudes then are not absolute and fixed; they are influenced by the evidence of benefit. My view is that if we keep the public informed, if we move forward gradually, then, as and when the benefits accrue, the issues will become progressively less contentious. I am actually extremely optimistic about the future of medical research.

Colin Blakemore, professor of physiology at the University of Oxford, interviewed by Jeremy Stangroom for What Scientists Think, published by Routledge

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