The Primate Diaries

Animal Rights and Human Rights

It’s wonderful to see that my Open Letter to the Animal Liberation Front has generated discussion on this important topic. The issue as I see it is really quite simple and boils down to two essential issues: the benefits to science versus the ethics of invasive animal experimentation. The British Medical Journal study and BUAV report (pdf) that I cited hold the position that the harm done to animals, particularly primates, is out of proportion to the benefits that come from such research. Furthermore, our current understanding about primate cognition, emotional complexity, and their rich social lives raise significant questions about using these animals for invasive medical research. However, to resolve this conflict we will need both the tools of the scientific method and the moral considerations involved in making ethical policy decisions.

This is an extremely complex and difficult issue and can generate a lot of heated emotions on all sides. Several years ago my mother was diagnosed with cancer and the chemotherapy treatment she received had been developed and tested using primate models. At the same time my work in primatology has revealed to me the joy that a baby monkey or ape clearly experiences when protected in their mother’s embrace. So I’m fully aware what a difficult topic this is both for researchers and the general public alike.

However, few may realize it, but the United States is completely outside of the international consensus on this issue. Only the U.S. and Gabon allow using great apes for invasive research purposes and we have the largest number of individuals, an estimated 1,200 chimpanzees, at nine U.S. laboratories (see Table 1 below). It is estimated that between 550-650 are government owned while private parties or institutions own the rest.


Research institutions conducting invasive experiments on chimpanzees. From Conlee (2007).

The majority of these animals are used in Hepatitis and HIV research. Despite the exacting protocols that are mandated by current legislation, such as the Animal Welfare Act, Public Health Service Policy and CHIMP Act, these animals spend much of their lives in great pain and with high levels of stress. For more on this please see K.M. Conlee’s report published in the Proceedings of the 6th World Congress on Alternatives & Animal Use in the Life Sciences (pdf here).

Bipartisan legislation has consistently been proposed to bring the United States into line with the rest of the world on this issue, but the bills have regularly been defeated in committee based on the pressure from powerful lobbying interests. This has created extraordinary frustration among animal rights organizations and some individuals have turned their anger into direct action. Their websites maintain regular allusions to human liberation struggles of the past and to such organizations as the underground railroad that sought to smuggle African-American slaves to freedom. It was for this reason that I chose the particular historical examples that I did in my letter to them.

Of course, the connection between animal rights and human rights is a controversial one, particularly when any comparisons are made to the struggles of minority groups. However, throughout history oppressed groups have regularly been used in invasive experiments, often without their consent. This is especially true in the American context. The folklorist Gladys-Marie Fry in her book Night Riders in Black Folk History chronicled an African-American oral tradition about “night doctors” between the years 1880 and 1915, during the period when many blacks migrated to northern cities. These stories expressed the fear of many ex-slaves that the “night doctors” would kidnap them for experimentation and dissection.

According to the book Subjected to Science: Human Experimentation in America Before the Second World War by University of Wisconsin-Madison Medical History and Ethics professor Susan E. Lederer, it was revealed how many of these fears were justified. But it also demonstrated how the animal rights movement and the human rights movement have frequently gone hand in hand throughout history:

During this period [1900-1940], the moral issues raised by experimenting on human beings were most intently pursued by men and women committed to the protection of laboratory animals, the American antivivisectionists. . . In fact, it was an antivivisectionist sympathizer, British playwright George Bernard Shaw, who first introduced the term “human guinea pig” in the early twentieth century, to make clear the vivisector’s equation of human and animal subjects (p. xiv).

The connection between human exploitation and animal exploitation is a complex but important issue. The oppression of other human groups occurs through a process of dehumanization. Whether the perpetrators were white slave owners, Nazi military doctors, or Japanese occupation forces in China, the use of invasive experiments was justified only because the powerful were able to convince themselves that “the other” was somehow less than human.

But animals already are less than human. This is where an understanding of evolution is important. When viewed along the continuum of evolutionary time we know that our species shares a close kinship with other primates and mammals. If it is universally accepted that humans should not be experimented upon, what about an individual that is 98.6% human (or rather, shares 98.6% of our DNA) such as chimpanzees? What about 93% in the case of macaques, the most used primate in invasive experiments today? This is a complicated issue and is something that requires a great deal of public discussion.

As it currently stands, there is intransigence on the side of scientists engaged in this research, influential government and private institutions that lobby Congress to maintain the status quo, and animal rights advocacy groups that submit report after report with little headway. It should come as no surprise that some people would break off from traditional channels and engage in extreme actions. Some of these individuals may be ideologues akin to the anti-gay or anti-abortion activists that one would find in rallies organized by Fred Phelps or Operation Rescue. However, I believe that most are people who are fed up with the stalemate on this issue and want to see change happen now.

We can and should condemn any and all actions when they pose a danger to innocent people, but we should also place those actions within the appropriate context. That is, if we genuinely care about resolving the issue. The reality is very simple. As long as nothing changes you can expect such actions to continue or even grow. I believe that creating responsible changes to US law would, not only put us in good standing with other researchers worldwide, it may also reduce the level of anger that this issue currently generates.

Comments

  1. #1 Paul Browne
    March 1, 2010

    “Bipartisan legislation has consistently been proposed to bring the United States into line with the rest of the world on this issue, but the bills have regularly been defeated in committee based on the pressure from powerful lobbying interests.”

    Powerful lobbying interests? Would these include the American Liver Foundation and all the many other charities that support the hundreds of thousands of people in the USA suffering with Hepatitis C infection?

    http://www.liverfoundation.org/
    http://www.faseb.org/Portals/0/Content/Joint%20GAPA%20letter.11.09.pdf

    I guess their views don’t count in this debate, after all they’re just ill humans.

  2. #2 Justin
    March 1, 2010

    First, I take issue with the statement:

    We can and should condemn any and all actions when they pose a danger to innocent people…

    because we should condemn violence toward ANY person, whether innocent or not.

    Second, the 98% human argument is deceptive because, afterall, we are 1/4 carrot (according to Jonathan Marks… can’t find his book right now to follow the reference trail).

    Finally, simply because demeaning, racist metaphors were used in the past by well meaning people doesn’t justify their continued use today.

  3. #3 Paul Browne
    March 1, 2010

    I’ll also point out that in most (if not all) of the countries in the world that have recently banned research on chimpanzees medical research on chimpanzees had already either ceased or had never started. That was certainly in the case in the UK where medical research on chimpanzees was (effectively) banned a decade after the last research chimpanzees left UK labs

    The truth is that the rest of the world decided that since thanks to advances in other techniques (including GM animals) chimpanzees are required for very few areas of research, Hepatitis C being the main, and possibly soon the only, one, they would leave it to the Americans. That is why the claim that outlawing medical research on chimpanzees would “put us in good standing with other researchers worldwide” is simply not true.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    March 1, 2010

    It is becoming increasingly clear that there are two mainstream views on this issue: The view held by those who carry out or are relatively closely involved in animal research (research involving animal subjects in labs) and everybody else.

  5. #5 Pail Browne
    March 1, 2010

    “relatively closely” including about 90% of medical researchers, almost all the major medical research charities and most patient advocacy groups.

  6. #6 Douglas Watts
    March 1, 2010

    If it is universally accepted that humans should not be experimented upon, what about an individual that is 98.6% human (or rather, shares 98.6% of our DNA) such as chimpanzees? What about 93% in the case of macaques, the most used primate in invasive experiments today? This is a complicated issue and is something that requires a great deal of public discussion.

    Thanks Eric.

    As much as some would like to frame the issue this way, there is no such thing as animal vs. human rights. It is a falsity. Humans do not have a “right” to the benefits of medical research which causes grave and lethal suffering on a chimpanzee. If experiments on primates were ended voluntarily or legislatively tomorrow, humans could not go to a court and challenge this ban on the basis that their “human rights” were violated. A simple example makes this plain. Under U.S. law, I don’t have a “right” to health care. If I can afford pay for it, then I get it. If I cannot pay for it, I don’t get it. If even basic health care is not a “human right” in the U.S., which it isn’t, then I certainly have no “right” to demand that animals be sacrificed for research that will never benefit me because I can’t afford to see a doctor. So that’s a non-starter by reductio ad absurdum.

    Second, animal abuse is already illegal by statute. A narrow exemption has been carved in these laws in the U.S. for specific, licensed research projects. Even if a non-licensed, non permittable type of research could possible save my life, I have no “right” to ask a court to overturn these statutory restrictions on the basis that this research could prolong my life. That’s not how the law works.

    Animal cruelty laws do not operate on an “ends justifies the means” basis. They operate in exactly the opposite manner. If an “ends justifies the means” approach was the basis of statutory construction, then any and all restrictions on animal research could be overturned based on a claim to a “right” by humans to the knowledge gained by any and all animal research, no matter how heinous. This is not how our laws are constructed. If folks don’t like that, they need to change the laws.

    Animal welfare and cruelty laws operate on a balancing test, with the burden of proof placed on researchers, who must apply for and receive permits, and an affirmative showing by the researcher that the research is (a) important and (b) cannot be obtained in a more humane and less invasive manner.

    Some wish to re-argue, from first principles, the very basis of these laws: ie. “are animals sentient” or “should they really have any rights” or “do they really feel pain and should we be required to care.” That ship sailed long ago. This is all settled law. What’s left is the balancing test, and the balancing test should always place the burden of proof on the researcher and any uncertainty should always side with the animal. Only by this statutory construction will there be incentives for researchers to find more humane and less invasive alternatives.

  7. #7 EMJ
    March 1, 2010

    Thanks Douglas. I really enjoyed your recent piece at Tispaquin’s Revenge by the way.

  8. #8 Douglas Watts
    March 1, 2010

    Powerful lobbying interests? Would these include the American Liver Foundation and all the many other charities that support the hundreds of thousands of people in the USA suffering with Hepatitis C infection?

    You need to separate organizational advocacy for non-invasive, non-lethal research vs. invasive, lethal research on animals. Those are two entirely separate issues and must not be confused. What is at issue here is not the ends but the means. Questioning the morality or efficacy of the means is not a per se rejection of the ends. It is quite the opposite.

  9. #9 Paul Browne
    March 1, 2010

    Douglas the reason that I posted both links was to show that the American Liver Foundation does support Hep C research in chimpanzees. They do do despite also supporting lots of other research methodologies including both in vitro methods and GM rodent models of Hep C infection.

    Your idea that patients and charities care only about the ends and ignore the means is incorrect, spend a little time browsing Hep C patient advocacy groups and you’ll quickly find discussion of research involving chimpanzees, for example:

    http://hepatitis.about.com/b/2009/12/09/spc3649.htm

  10. #10 Orac
    March 1, 2010

    The British Medical Journal study and BUAV report (pdf) that I cited hold the position that the harm done to animals, particularly primates, is out of proportion to the benefits that come from such research.

    As was described before, the BMJ review (it really can’t be called a proper study) was incredibly flawed. Meanwhile, the BUAV is an animal rights group; of course it concludes that the harm done to animals outweighs its good.

    I hate to say it, but it’s true: You really are quite ignorant of the benefits of animal research over the last several decades, so much so that your prior post inspired me to resurrect something I wrote a couple of years ago for another blog, dust it off, and repurpose it for this discussion:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/03/answering_scientific_arguments_of_an.php

    The post answers the “science-y” objections to animal research of Ray Greek and Niall Shank that were published in SKEPTIC Magazine back in 2008, as well as a bunch of other objections.

    As it currently stands, there is intransigence on the side of scientists engaged in this research, influential government and private institutions that lobby Congress to maintain the status quo, and animal rights advocacy groups that submit report after report with little headway. It should come as no surprise that some people would break off from traditional channels and engage in extreme actions. Some of these individuals may be ideologues akin to the anti-gay or anti-abortion activists that one would find in rallies organized by Fred Phelps or Operation Rescue. However, I believe that most are people who are fed up with the stalemate on this issue and want to see change happen now.

    This sounds very much to me like an apologia for violent animal rights extremists. Sure, you later say that violence shouldn’t be permitted, but, oh, it’s really quite understandable. Those nasty, “intransigent” scientists leave the “noble” and “idealistic” animal rights extremists no choice but violent revolution!

    At least, that’s sure what it sounds like to me.

  11. #11 Douglas Watts
    March 1, 2010

    Orac, with all respect, you are missing the forest for the trees.

    Folks like myself and the author are clearly not ‘extremists.’ Nor are the vast majority of people who are concerned about the welfare of any animal, that by various circumstances, finds itself dependent on human care (voluntarily or involuntarily).

    As evinced by existing animal cruelty laws, which are the sole legal basis that allows any animal experimentation whatsoever, there is a balance test between the legal right of the animal to live out its life and the wishes of the researcher, who claims a societal benefit may be obtained by physically and psychologically harming the animal in its care and often causing its life to end far more quickly and sadly than would happen otherwise. These are the laws we subscribe to and must abide by.

    I believe that much of the allowed animal research in the U.S. does not meet this balance test and is only allowed due to institutional intransigence and inertia.

    For primates I believe there should be no balance test. Primates are so similar to humans (which is precisely why they are used for research) that all experimentation should be banned as prima facie abuse.

    As we know from humans, psychological damage from prolonged confinement and isolation is as profound as any physiological damage. Acute physiological damage, if treated properly, can heal. Even a bad cut can heal. Long-term psychological damage is not amenable to treatment. So in a way this comes down to a very empirical and answerable scientific question: what is the long-term psychological effects on primate subjects by intense confinement and isolation and destruction of their normal social structure? The burden of proof is upon the researchers who enforce this isolation and cause it and seek to justify it. If researchers are unwilling to explore this and consider it, then they have conceded the game. “It’s not relevant to my research objective,” is not a valid response given the underlying laws which allow experimentation to be conducted.

  12. #12 EMJ
    March 1, 2010

    @Orac: You’re quite right that there have been necessary medical breakthroughs using animal models and your post does an excellent job of pointing those out. Personally, I thought these benefits were obvious and so felt no need to emphasize them. Perhaps I should have been more clear. You present an important side of this public debate, but it’s not the only side. If you were to replace the word “primate” with “human in a persistent vegetative state” or, even, “adult with the mental capacity of a child” would you be as bold in your advocacy even if there had been a long history of medical breakthroughs using these subjects as models? This is more than a rhetorical question. Modern research has shown that chimpanzees and bonobos have the cognitive and emotional complexity of four-year-old children. This makes the ethical consideration of their lived experience an important component of this debate, one that I don’t see emphasized enough.

    As for your point that my position is an apologia or that I might be “coddling terrorists” all I can do is shake my head. Understanding the motivations of a murderer is not to excuse the murder, it is to figure out how such an event took place with the goal of preventing any future cases. See, for example, my comments on this post for a few thoughts on short-term solutions. I greatly respect your opinion as a scientist, but such a comment suggests a significant level of ignorance in the realm of politics.

  13. #13 Adam_Y
    March 1, 2010

    As for your point that my position is an apologia or that I might be “coddling terrorists” all I can do is shake my head. Understanding the motivations of a murderer is not to excuse the murder, it is to figure out how such an event took place with the goal of preventing any future cases. See, for example, my comments on this post for a few thoughts on short-term solutions. I greatly respect your opinion as a scientist, but such a comment suggests a significant level of ignorance in the realm of politics.

    Trying to understand people’s motivations in some cases is just stupid and Orac knows that better than anyone else. I honestly can say I tried this tactic a few times with people like Jenny McCarthy. I gave myself a headache at how incoherent and jumbled their arguments are. Deep down. I know that there is some form of logic to their actions that makes sense to them but it is buried underneath a horrendous mess.

  14. #14 John
    March 1, 2010

    “If it is universally accepted that humans should not be experimented upon…”

    In what universe is this the case, Eric? In the universe in which I’m posting this, we experiment upon humans all the time. In fact, I’m one of those humans.

    Where do you get off with falsehoods like this?

  15. #15 John
    March 1, 2010

    “Personally, I thought these benefits were obvious and so felt no need to emphasize them.”

    You are denying them.

    “Perhaps I should have been more clear.”

    You misspelled “honest.”

    “You present an important side of this public debate, but it’s not the only side.”

    It’s the only honest side.

    “If you were to replace the word “primate” with “human in a persistent vegetative state” or, even, “adult with the mental capacity of a child” would you be as bold in your advocacy even if there had been a long history of medical breakthroughs using these subjects as models?”

    This is an utterly idiotic argument. Rights are based on reciprocity. Since I may become a human in a persistent vegetative state or one with the mental capacity of a child, those humans are well within any circle of rightsholders based on reciprocation.

    “This is more than a rhetorical question.”

    It’s entirely rhetorical, cheap, and dishonest.

    “Modern research has shown that chimpanzees and bonobos have the cognitive and emotional complexity of four-year-old children. This makes the ethical consideration of their lived experience an important component of this debate, one that I don’t see emphasized enough.”

    So what? There’s no research that shows that I could ever be transformed into a chimp or bonobo.

  16. #16 Douglas Watts
    March 1, 2010

    Trying to understand people’s motivations in some cases is just stupid …

    Not in general, and in this case, not at all. Judges and juries have to do it all the time when determining guilt and imposing sentences. The difference between self-defense, involuntary manslaughter, manslaughter and 2nd or 1st degree murder is based upon an assessment of motivation. Motivation is a valid and necessary area of inquiry.

  17. #17 Alex
    March 1, 2010

    @John:

    “This is an utterly idiotic argument. Rights are based on reciprocity. Since I may become a human in a persistent vegetative state or one with the mental capacity of a child, those humans are well within any circle of rightsholders based on reciprocation.”
    >> This is an utterly idiotic argument. According to you, rights are based on reciprocity. According to your crappy logic, a human baby has no rights since it does not have any responsibilities. Therefore, we can proceed further and rape it if we would feel like it. This may sound to you as if it’s coming from another planet but, if you do end up in the state that you describe, most of us would still consider that you have the same rights as before. Of course, you have a few crazies from time to time, such as yourself, who would consider yourself lower in terms of rights, but hey.

  18. #18 Douglas Watts
    March 1, 2010

    This is an utterly idiotic argument. Rights are based on reciprocity. Since I may become a human in a persistent vegetative state or one with the mental capacity of a child, those humans are well within any circle of rightsholders based on reciprocation.

    I think you are confusing legal rights, as in the right to bring an action before a court on your own behalf, with a legal right which can be defended on your behalf by those who have standing before the court. In the latter context, animals have a panoply of rights of a statutory nature and these rights can be defended by people. This is the entire purpose of the citizens’ suit provisions under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the U.S. Clean Water Act.

    The right of animals to not be abused has long been codified into law. Try starving or beating your dog to death and see where your argument gets you in court. Even songbirds have legal rights in the sense that it is illegal to attempt to kill or injure them and the offender can be sent to jail. It is in this sense that animals have rights.

  19. #19 John
    March 1, 2010

    Alex wrote:
    “>> This is an utterly idiotic argument. According to you, rights are based on reciprocity. ”

    No, according to the way that everyone behaves.

    “According to your crappy logic, a human baby has no rights since it does not have any responsibilities.”

    No, human babies have rights because we were all human babies at one time and many of us have human babies too. These babies will (mostly) become fully functional humans, and they gain additional rights as they gain responsibilities.

    “Therefore, we can proceed further and rape it if we would feel like it.”

    Why would you conclude something as stupid as that?

    “This may sound to you as if it’s coming from another planet but, if you do end up in the state that you describe, most of us would still consider that you have the same rights as before.”

    That was the point I was making, Alex. Do you read?

    “Of course, you have a few crazies from time to time, such as yourself, who would consider yourself lower in terms of rights, but hey.”

    What made you think that I was saying that mentally-impaired people are lower in terms of rights?

    Douglas:
    “I think you are confusing legal rights, as in the right to bring an action before a court on your own behalf, with a legal right which can be defended on your behalf by those who have standing before the court.”

    I’m not. Those aren’t separate rights anyway.

    “In the latter context, animals have a panoply of rights of a statutory nature and these rights can be defended by people. This is the entire purpose of the citizens’ suit provisions under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the U.S. Clean Water Act.”

    No. The existence of a restriction on human behavior, whether self-imposed or imposed by law, does not imply a corresponding right.

    “The right of animals to not be abused has long been codified into law.”

    False.

    “Try starving or beating your dog to death and see where your argument gets you in court.”

    Try pulling the legs off a live fly and see if anyone cares enough to drag you into court. Only those animals that reciprocate get rights, and those are strictly limited. For example, you are far less likely to get into any trouble if you torture your own dog than you would if you tortured mine.

    “Even songbirds have legal rights in the sense that it is illegal to attempt to kill or injure them and the offender can be sent to jail.”

    I haven’t seen any cats, who are prodigious killers of songbirds, being sent to jail. Have you?

    “It is in this sense that animals have rights.”

    They don’t. Of course, you will dishonestly try to twist my position to a claim that they deserve no moral consideration, which is not my position at all. Right?

  20. #20 Colugo
    March 1, 2010

    So the promising young science blogger EMJ has fully outed himself as an animal rightist. To be sure, to EMJ’s credit, he decries violent activity carried out in the name of this movement.

    (By the way, I am very surprised by Greg Laden’s views on this topic.)

    Let’s stop indiscriminately sacralizing primates, shall we? Should we ban research on mouse lemurs and lorises? What’s next, pigs? They’re surely smarter than mouse lemurs. How about the rest of the Archonta? (‘Colugo’ is just a handle, not my totem animal.)

    How did we get to this point?

    I would suggest that part of the reason is that the scientific (or rational, atheist, whatever the label) community failed to call Jane Goodall and Richard Dawkins on their animal rightist, anti-vivisectionst, ape-uplifting bullshit. Instead, their eccentric views were indulged because they are so respected as scientists. (Legitimately so.)

    It’s time to collectively say “Enough. No more of this animal rights bull.” Before these views infiltrate any further into the rationalist community.

  21. #21 Anonymous
    March 1, 2010

    @John:
    “No, according to the way that everyone behaves.”
    >> No, according to the way you believe everyone behaves. I do not behave like this and I consider that others have certain rights regardless of whether or not they can meet their responsibilities or what their responsibilities are.

    “No, human babies have rights because we were all human babies at one time and many of us have human babies too. These babies will (mostly) become fully functional humans, and they gain additional rights as they gain responsibilities.”
    >> Again, entirely your opinion (and maybe that of others), but still no proof of anything. Also, please proceed further and define “fully funtional humans”.

    “Why would you conclude something as stupid as that?”
    >> For obvious reasons. Do you read? A baby has no responsibilities and therefore, according to you, no rights. Oh wait! You changed your position. Incorrect, in fact it does have rights regardless of the lack of responsibilities because we add another subjective condition: we used to be like that at one time.

    “”This may sound to you as if it’s coming from another planet but, if you do end up in the state that you describe, most of us would still consider that you have the same rights as before.”

    “That was the point I was making, Alex. Do you read?

    “Of course, you have a few crazies from time to time, such as yourself, who would consider yourself lower in terms of rights, but hey.”

    What made you think that I was saying that mentally-impaired people are lower in terms of rights?”

    >> I don’t believe that I misread your statement, but just for clarification what did you mean by:

    “those humans are well within any circle of rightsholders based on reciprocation.”

    My view is that you meant that other humans are now part of a group which has rights over you based on reciprocation. In other words, since you can no longer actively contribute to society in any way, they can do whatever they want with you because the social contract based on reciprocity is now void.

  22. #22 Alex
    March 1, 2010

    And I forgot the name, the above post is from me.

  23. #23 Douglas Watts
    March 1, 2010

    It’s time to collectively say “Enough. No more of this animal rights bull.” Before these views infiltrate any further into the rationalist community.

    Well, that will be difficult, Colugo, given that this ‘animal rights bull’ has been codified into state and federal statute for a half a century. See also the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the U.S. Clean Water Act. You’re going to have to change a lot of laws.

    Keep up the good work.

  24. #24 Colugo
    March 1, 2010

    Douglas Watts:

    Whether deliberately or not, you are conflating animal welfare and environmental protection with animal rights. You are either being disingenuous or ignorant.

  25. #25 John
    March 1, 2010

    “My view is that you meant that other humans are now part of a group which has rights over you based on reciprocation. In other words, since you can no longer actively contribute to society in any way, they can do whatever they want with you because the social contract based on reciprocity is now void.”

    Huh? I was claiming the polar opposite. Reciprocity is alive and well because I would want to retain my rights if I ended up in that situation. That’s what I meant by “those humans are well within any circle of rightsholders based on reciprocation.”

    “Again, entirely your opinion (and maybe that of others), but still no proof of anything.”

    I need to prove that we were once babies and that some of us have produced babies too?

  26. #26 Douglas Watts
    March 1, 2010

    Whether deliberately or not, you are conflating animal welfare and environmental protection with animal rights. You are either being disingenuous or ignorant.

    Colugo,

    If you have ever read the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the U.S. Clean Water Act, which you apparently have not, you would see that their entire purpose is protecting the welfare of animals. The welfare of animals is the only reason these laws were enacted. Reading them might illuminate their meaning.

    Keep up the good work.

  27. #27 Alex
    March 1, 2010

    @John: I was probably wrong about the first comment, the one where you said you claim the polar opposite. Sorry for misrepresenting your opinion. Now, for the second comment, you either set up a straw man on purpose or did not understand my question. No I do not require proof that many of us have or have had sex and that a lot of this led to pregnancies. What I require proof of is that the simple fact of being a descendent of another human being immediately grants you unalienable “rights” that other animals do not have. You have also avoided my question of giving a precise definition for “fully functional humans” and did not respond to my other counter-points.

  28. #28 John
    March 1, 2010

    Doug:
    “The welfare of animals is the only reason these laws were enacted.”

    False. Moreover, welfare is not synonymous with rights.

    Alex:
    “@John: I was probably wrong about the first comment, the one where you said you claim the polar opposite. Sorry for misrepresenting your opinion.”

    I accept your apology.

    “…What I require proof of is that the simple fact of being a descendent of another human being immediately grants you unalienable “rights” that other animals do not have.”

    Walk into a crowded public place and kill a mouse. People might be disgusted, but that is perfectly legal in most contexts. Now walk into the same place, grab a baby from her mother, and kill her. I guarantee that the simple fact that the baby is a descendant of another human being grants her an unalienable right that you just violated.

    “You have also avoided my question of giving a precise definition for “fully functional humans”"

    Humans whom we hold completely responsible for reciprocating.

    “… and did not respond to my other counter-points.”

    What were those?

  29. #29 Alex
    March 2, 2010

    @John:
    “Walk into a crowded public place and kill a mouse…”
    >> Bad example. An example shaped by your own social conditioning and many other things. Here’s a counter-example. I am sure that you have heard about the famous city of Sparta (Greece)? The Spartans practiced a eugenics policy with their newborns. If the newborn did not meet certain criteria he would be executed, sometimes in front of his own parents and the parents would agree. The Nazis attempted to practice a similar eugenics policy, but there were differences.

    “Humans whom we hold completely responsible for reciprocating.”
    >> Interesting. Now suppose that a specific human fails to reciprocate because of refusal to reciprocate. Are his rights immediately withdrawn and is he considered an animal or do we tolerate a certain level of disobedience to reciprocity?

    For my other counter-points, go back to comment 21. You have only answered my second counter-point.

  30. #30 John
    March 2, 2010

    “Bad example.”

    Why?

    “An example shaped by your own social conditioning and many other things.”

    Yes, so?

    “Here’s a counter-example…The Spartans practiced a eugenics policy with their newborns. If the newborn did not meet certain criteria he would be executed, sometimes in front of his own parents and the parents would agree. The Nazis attempted to practice a similar eugenics policy, but there were differences.”

    You don’t live in either place or time.

    “Now suppose that a specific human fails to reciprocate because of refusal to reciprocate.”

    OK, he murders someone.

    “Are his rights immediately withdrawn…”

    No, there’s a trial before that.

    “… and is he considered an animal…”

    Pretty much. Don’t you know what goes on in prisons?

    “For my other counter-points, go back to comment 21.”

    I don’t see any other ones there.

  31. #31 Speaking of Research
    March 2, 2010

    “If you have ever read the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the U.S. Clean Water Act, which you apparently have not, you would see that their entire purpose is protecting the welfare of animals. The welfare of animals is the only reason these laws were enacted. Reading them might illuminate their meaning.”

    Wrong, ensuring the safety of water used by humans for consumption and recreartion (the sport fishing lobby being important here) was a, if not the, primary purpose of the clean water act. So far as the Endangered Species act is concerned you are confusing conservation with animal welfare, they are seperate concerns even if they do overlap in practice from time to time.

    In your comments on farm animals, pets etc I believe you are confusing rights with statutory protection under welfare laws, I don’t think they are the same, though I’ll admit the definition of what a right is does vary between legal cultures. In any case your point is made moot bey the fact that there is a lot of legal protection in place for research animals, through the AWA and other regulatory bodies, it is simply not the case that animal research is an exception to the rules governing animal welfare in the rest of society.

    I also think that it is worth noting that not every human has absolute protection, the factors that confer human rights on human beings are varied, including their level of sentience/sapience at a particular time, their potential to develop that further and their relationship to other members of society. So I support the right to choose, early in pregnancy and later in the case of serious fetal abnormalities or health risk to the mother, because I think any rights the fetus has are subordinate to the rights of the mother. Later, particularly after birth, that balance shifts to the fetus/baby. Likewise I would be happy to see presumed consent for the harvesting of transplant tissues from brain-dead patients. It gets tickier with people in a vegetative state because of both uncertainty over their status, and their relationship to others, in this case I think we are right to err on the side of caution.

    We need to be vary wary of absolutes in these debates!

  32. #32 EMJ
    March 2, 2010

    We need to be vary wary of absolutes in these debates!

    Agreed.

  33. #33 Jon H
    March 2, 2010

    Shouldn’t you be more concerned about the welfare of great apes in the wild, where they’re mercilessly killed by poachers, rather than a comparative handful of animals kept in labs where at least the procedures are done under painkillers, etc?

  34. #34 EMJ
    March 2, 2010

    What on earth makes you think I’m not concerned about that? See my article in Wildlife Conservation.

  35. #35 Douglas Watts
    March 2, 2010

    Shouldn’t you be more concerned about the welfare of great apes in the wild, where they’re mercilessly killed by poachers, rather than a comparative handful of animals kept in labs where at least the procedures are done under painkillers, etc?

    In a legal context, this is called a ‘dilatory’ argument. It is a deliberate attempt to direct attention away from the subject of the discussion. It is also called ‘grasping at straws.’ See Eric’s response.

  36. #36 John
    March 2, 2010

    Doug wrote:
    “It is also called ‘grasping at straws.’ See Eric’s response.”

    Eric offered the best example of grasping at straws when he dishonestly wrote, “”If it is universally accepted that humans should not be experimented upon…”

    And he even followed up that blatant falsehood with another: “what about an individual that is 98.6% human (or rather, shares 98.6% of our DNA) such as chimpanzees?

    Eric, how can you possibly claim to be a scientist when you spout such drivel. We don’t “share 98.6% of our DNA” with chimps.” Anyone who repeats such BS can’t possibly be familiar with any genetic reality.

  37. #37 Rhett
    March 4, 2010

    My wife spent a summer working for the the health dept. while there she collected mosquito samples and and tested them for west vile. We kill so many things every day however when people perform tests on animals others think they are doing horrible things to them. not all tests cause harm to the animals.

  38. #38 Beverly
    March 6, 2010

    Eric states in his article: “But animals already are less than human.” This is actually quite arrogant when one thinks about it. Animals are merely different from humans. And hey, humans are animals too! The other non-human animals are not on earth for humans to use for research. They have their own lives to live, and I don’t believe that involves having electrodes hammered into their heads or poisons dripped into their bodies or any of the other tortures devised by humans. And no, Jon H., they are not given painkillers.

  39. #39 Roman
    March 27, 2010

    @colugo

    “It’s time to collectively say “Enough. No more of this animal rights bull.” Before these views infiltrate any further into the rationalist community.”

    I bet that 50 years ago people were saying similar things about racial desegregation. I bet that that 100 years ago people were saying similar things about women’s rights. I bet that 300 years ago people were saying similar things about religious tolerance.

    It’s all about social progress. The progress happens because people suddenly “click” and realize the wrongs committed in the past, and say “no more”. Some people, like me, Greg Laden, and others have “clicked” on the point of animal rights and moved one step up the social and cultural ladder. You haven’t. Enjoy being a cultural relic.