Attack on Animal Research in NYT

by Wesley J. Smith

If you have had any surgery, drug, or other medical treatment developed in the last fifty years, you can thank animal researchers for making it possible.

Animal research is required to obtain basic biological knowledge. 

Animal research is also a crucial human rights issue, required by the Nuremberg Code as a protector of human research subjects

It is necessary for safety of human research subjects. Many a human being has been saved from harm because a drug or procedure harmed or killed animals, forcing the researchers to go back to the drawing board.

As just one example, when an HIV drug was tested in dogs, some died. That sad outcome forced researchers back to the drawing board. The changes they made worked, the test animals were not harmed, and the medicine went into human trials and use, saving countless lives.

Would the animal rightists have preferred that AIDS patients died instead of the sad but necessary demise of the test dogs? Absolutely! Iheard from many of them after publishing A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement.

Now, the always anti-human exceptionalist New York Times Sunday opinion section has published advocacy by a bioethicist, who once did research on monkeys, attacking the respect due his former profession. From, “Second Thoughts of an Animal Researcher,” by John P. Gluck:

As the philosopher and bioethicist Peter Singer has noted, the descriptions of actual experiments in scientific publications and college textbooks are frequently sanitized, stripped of descriptive language, deliberately preventing the reader from getting a true picture of the emotional and physical torment inherent in the research.

No matter what honorable ends you tell yourself you have in sight, if you’re finding yourself having to bowdlerize the description of your work, you are in a morally perilous place and should urgently reconsider what you’re doing. 

Ah, Peter Singer, the NYT’s favorite philosopher.

But why should anyone hearken to his views? Not only does Singer favor infanticide of babies whose presence does not serve the interests of his or her parents, he has stated in interviews that cognitively devastated people should have been used in developing the hepatitis vaccine instead of chimpanzees because the chimps have a higher “quality of life,” and hence, greater moral value due to their greater cognitive capacities.

On the other hand, not mentioned by Gluck, the utilitarian Singer has also specifically approved of using monkeys in Parkinson’s research–for the same reasons he did disabled human patients; the people have a higher quality of life than the monkeys.

Gluck more than implies he would do away with research on monkeys, the way the NIH no longer funds research on chimps (a restriction I approve):

In 1974, a federal commission was formed to develop ethical principles for human research. For nearly four years, the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects in Biomedical and Behavioral Research met monthly to develop ethical principles that we rely on for human research. The principles set down in the resulting Belmont Report reflect the moral dimensions of human research that now govern this work.

The report revolutionized the understanding of voluntary and informed consent, fair subject recruitment, and the importance of conducting risk benefit analyses. No such document exists for animal research. Acknowledging that our serious work as scientists can be a source of pain and distress to sentient, helpless and non­consenting beings can be difficult.

The federal government should establish a national commission to develop the principles to guide decisions about the ethics of animal research. We already accept that ethical limits on experiments involving humans are important enough that we are willing to forgo possible breakthroughs. There is no ethical argument that justifies not doing the same for animals.

Baloney. Gluck would have readers believe there are no strict ethical regulations that govern primate research. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Animal Welfare Act already has many stringent requirements governing research on monkeys–as the law should–including cost-benefit analyses, the requirement that any pain experiments cause be palliated, and the requirement that oversight boards approve the purpose and approach of proposed experiments.

Moreover, as I point out in my book, in some ways animals receive higher protections than humans–for example surprise inspections of research facilities, and unmentioned by Gluck, most research facilities subject themselves to oversight by accreditation boards.

This is the difficult fact that can’t be avoided: We need primate research if we are going to advance science, relieve human suffering, and bring new treatments into medicine’s armamentarium. At some point, we have to decide whether to help humans or not experiment on monkeys.

The notorious Silver Springs Monkey Case is just one example of the threat that efforts to unduly restrict primate research poses.

Animal rights activists associated with PETA set up Dr. Edward Taub as an animal abuser, while he was in the midst of conducting an NIH-approved experiment on monkeys to determine whether the animals could be retrained to use a disabled limb once the nerve had been severed. When Taub went on vacation, the animal rights fanatic, posing as a student volunteer, allowed the lab to become filthy with monkey waste and then called the cops, who arrested Taub when he returned.

As I wrote here at National Review, once Taub restored his good name and got back to work, the knowledge he gained from the primate experiments led to a dramatic rehabilitation therapy for human stroke victims. From, “A Monkey for Your Grandmother:”

Happily for suffering humanity, Taub continued his important research.

He has since won three national prizes from national scientific societies, and was Scholar of the Year at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1997. More importantly, the animal research that so distressed animal liberationists helped Taub achieve a medical breakthrough in the treatment of stroke victims–called Constraint-Induced Movement (CI Therapy)–by which the brain is induced to “rewire itself” following stroke or other serious brain trauma. CI Therapy is so successful that there is now a long waiting list of stroke patients with upper limb impairments at Taub’s Alabama clinic.

The technique is also in further human trials for other conditions, including as an approach to treating children with cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injury.

These treatments have now been approved by Medicare and are helping disabled people all over the world.

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