Practical Issues > Things To Do > Activism

Nothing Can Justify Animal Torture
April 14, 2006
Justin Goodman

Cornelius, a 7-year-old rhesus macaque, showed many signs of distress, discomfort and illness for more than six months at the University of Connecticut Health Center. This was after receiving a surgical procedure that included drilling a hole into his skull, implanting a steel chamber atop the wound and putting coils in his eyes, according to logs from the center obtained by the UConn Animal Rights Collective under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

Researchers, however, went on with business as usual. On Nov. 21, 2005, while being placed in a restraining chair for an experiment, Cornelius suffered a grand mal seizure followed by respiratory and cardiac arrest. The university has refused to talk with members of the collective about this study and Cornelius' death but have defended them as ethical and humane. Please.

As a moral person and advocate for animal rights, I oppose vivisection on scientific and ethical grounds. The fact remains, however, that experiments on animals have played a role in the advancement of science for hundreds of years. This is indisputable. Pro-vivisectionists like to use this to justify otherwise questionable activities. But these same people would be remiss not to acknowledge that research conducted on nonhuman animals began before modern technological and clinical advancements were refined - making vivisection archaic. Furthermore, our current understanding of animal consciousness makes vivisection immoral.

The discovery of surgical treatments and medications could very possibly have occurred without the use of animals. If researchers continue to rely on animals, however, they will never know this and will continue to tout vivisection as "necessary." They will neglect alternatives that could provide useful results that are otherwise unattainable.

Additionally, a close anatomical relationship between animals of different species does not ensure similar biochemical and physiological responses to particular procedures and stimuli. Harmful effects of Vioxx, thalidomide, benzene, asbestos, high cholesterol foods and hepatitis B appeared in humans after showing no negative effects in animal models.

In January, Mike Leavitt, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said: "Currently, nine out of 10 experimental drugs fail in clinical studies because we cannot accurately predict how they will behave in people based on laboratory and animal studies."

Clearly, animal models leave much to be desired. Researchers would be hard-pressed to provide evidence the treatments they are developing could not be pursued in a way that is safer for humans and nonhumans. To fulfill their ethical and scientific obligations, researchers must develop treatments using the modern alternatives to vivisection or create new ones. Some examples of these alternatives are tissue cultures, noninvasive imaging and clinical studies on consenting humans.

Although the health center administration has repeatedly done so, we cannot use the hypothetical medical value of the data collected using animals in research as a way to measure the ethical nature of our activities. If we do, we must also condone the work of scientists who collected very rich data by harming human beings in research such as the Tuskegee syphilis study and the work at Nazi concentration camps. These studies provided researchers with amazingly accurate details about tissue transplantation, hypothermia and sexually transmitted diseases - despite their abhorrent methods.

Human models would clearly be the best way to discover cures for human maladies. I'd be the first in line. But employing researchers' current techniques on animals that require poisoning and mutilating participants would be a grave violation of people's fundamental moral rights to respectful treatment. We do not deprive any humans of this moral right based on their skin color, sexual orientation, religion or sex because these characteristics have no bearing on an individual's ability to experience pain and suffering. Accordingly, we should extend the above right to nonhumans as well.

Ultimately, it is irrelevant whether animal models and vivisection work and how many human lives they could save. The use of animal models is the result of a conscious choice to select an unconscionable method of discovery that inflicts suffering greatly outweighing any possible benefits.

Justin Goodman, 26, of Vernon is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Connecticut and president of the UConn Animal Rights Collective.