Peter Singer, a bioethicist at Princeton, is the brain behind the animal rights movement. He has provided their sole moral argument – animals have the same rights as humans – with a rigorous philosophical foundation. But now he appears to modifying his stance:
One of the most important figures in the animal rights movement has publicly backed the use of living creatures in medical experiments. The endorsement – by the philosopher Peter Singer, who coined the phrase Animal Liberation and whose Seventies book on the subject led to the creation of the animal rights movement – has surprised observers.
Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton, is renowned for insisting animals should have equal rights with humans but is quoted, on camera, backing research in which experiments on monkeys are carried out to develop surgery for Parkinson’s and other patients.
‘It is clear at least some animal research does have benefits,’ Singer admits on Monkeys, Rats and Me: Animal Testing, which will be screened on BBC2 tomorrow. ‘I would certainly not say that no animal research could be justified and the case you have given sounds like one that is justified.’
The admission has delighted scientists, including the Oxford surgeon Tipu Aziz, the doctor involved in this work. ‘It is a very encouraging sign,’ he said.
This is a welcome shift. In recent years, Singer has spent more time focusing on the animal food industry – The Way We Eat is a harrowing read – and less time worrying about animal experimentation. It’s high time animal rights activists realize that the “animal holocaust” isn’t taking place in science labs. (That is, unless you count drosophila and c.elegans. I’ve killed more than my fair share of those two species.) If you want to improve the lives of animals, focus on chickens and cows, not mice and chimps.