Animals (More4) - Dr Simon Festing and John Curtin
We took your questions in a fascinating online debate between Dr Simon Festing (Head of the Research Defence Society) and John Curtin (animal rights activist).
Chat Ed : Good evening everyone and thanks for joining us for our live online debate about animal rights. We’ll be chatting with Dr Simon Festing – Head of the Research Defence Society and John Curtin - animal activist. We’ll be getting their opposing viewpoints on the questions YOU ask. Good evening to both of you…
Dr Simon Festing : Hello everyone. I'm Dr Simon Festing - a medical doctor previously, but now Head of the Research Defence Society, which explains why we use animals in medical research.
NickyB : Hi there can you both tell us about your jobs and what your daily routines consist of?
John Curtin : Being involved in the Animal Liberation Movement encompasses so many different roles. I do animal rescue work at sanctuaries and general campaigning. I'm not involved in illegal activities anymore, on the programme I was talking retrospectively about activities I used to be involved in.
Razzer : How did you both get started in your current professions/ what was the one thing that made you feel passionate about your causes?
John Curtin : I had a ‘Road to Damascus’ experience… I was living in Ireland and my dog died in my arms and it was at that moment that things clicked for me and I realised that animals do feel pain and that they do matter. I felt ashamed that I had been brainwashed up until then.
Gemma Nichols : Mr. Festing, If animal research is relevant to human health, why did the vice president of a major drug co. admit that the majority of drugs do not work in most people, and a leading medical journal report they are 4th major cause of death?
Dr Simon Festing : All modern medicines are tested in computers and cell cultures and animals and then in extensive human clinical trials. It is the purpose of the human clinical trials to work out if the medicines are safe and effective. It is completely illogical to blame the small portion of the research that goes on in animals at a much earlier stage for when some problem later arises which the human clinical trials did not detect.
Leo the Lion : John Curtin, given that the public abhors animal rights extremism and largely supports animal research, isn't what you and your followers do fundamentally undemocratic. Would you agree that it's fascism to try to bully and intimidate people into submission?
John Curtin : To me it is the vivisectors who are the terrorists. Martin Luther King , Gandhi and Mandela were all branded by society as terrorists by simply fighting for justice and standing up for the victims of bullying. Apart from one attack, that I know of, on Brian Cass, no vivisectors have actually been physically injured, yet 3 animal rights protestors have been killed and countless put in hospital.
Bball : Evening to both of you. I just want to ask, with such opposed points of view, can this issue ever be resolved? Assume you can never WIN this (which is likely the case), is there any middle ground that could ever be acceptable to both sides?
Dr Simon Festing : Research scientists do not want to use animals if it could possibly be avoided and we are the ones who have been developing alternatives. In the last 4 years there have been 3 major independent enquiries into animal research all by independent committees. They have all agreed that we should work to reduce the use of animals wherever possible, however, we accept that it is difficult to have dialogue with those who demand the immediate abolition of animal research regardless of the consequences.
Alex : Could John Curtin tell me if animal rights activists renounce the use of any drugs which have been developed using animal testing?
John Curtin : The problem is that all drugs are tested on animals. On the programme it stated that if there are no adverse side effects then you can proceed to clinical testing on animals - this is not true. If that were the case then we wouldn't be using drugs such as aspirin and penicillin. Aspirin kills cats and penicillin kills guinea pigs. When I'm sick I don't go to the vets. I want to rely on a human specialist.
Skip : How realistic was the programme?
John Curtin : I was pleasantly surprised at some of the realism in it. Normally this area has been handled by the likes of The Bill, Bergerac and Casualty and I usually cringe. I thought it did a very good job actually. Although it lacked the graphic animal abuse and it didn't portray how gruesome animal experiments often are.
BazB : Regulatory requirements demand testing of new drugs in animals. Given this, why do animal rights protesters target industry rather than government?
John Curtin : There is a saying that animals have as much chance in politics as they have in the slaughterhouse. I have here a leaflet that was put through my door by Labour saying, ‘New Labour - New Life’ where Tony Blair promised to have a Royal Commission into vivisection... Where is that now? Another empty promise. We target businesses because the fundamental reason behind animal experiments is to make money, therefore business-people understand us when we cost them money.
Primate : The pharmaceutical industry is about profit not philanthropy - Dr Festing do you agree?
Dr Simon Festing : Yes and the logical consequence of that is firstly that no one who wants to make a profit could do so from torturing animals or producing bad science. Since animal research is extremely expensive pharmaceutical companies have every incentive to develop and introduce alternatives at which they have been extremely successful.
Achar : John, you are clearly driven by your conscience. But other radical campaigners are, too. If your conscience is clear about damage caused to property in pursuit of a cause, would you accept the legitimacy of causing similar damage, if it was carried out by, say, anti-abortionists, radical Christians or Islamic Jihadists, who are also acting on deeply held beliefs?
John Curtin : I don't just agree with people acting on their beliefs, but I would ask people to believe that what underpins me is love and compassion. That may drive me to do things that other people disagree with. I want a gentler world, not a more violent world.
Chat Ed :We are out of time. Sorry to those of you who did not get a question asked, in our limited time we get far more questions that we can use, but I hope you enjoyed the chat whether you got a question asked or not. Thank you to both of you for coming along and chatting with us. And final words from our guests…
Dr Simon Festing : I would like to see the time when we can have a debate with people like John without the threat of intimidation and harassment hanging over us. I know that will be difficult and we must do what we believe is just and that is to develop life-saving medicines to prevent human suffering and save human lives.