Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement

The subtitle of my upcoming book, A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy (taken from PETA's Ingrid Newkirk's most famous quote), is The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement. That cost is both real and harmful, as evidenced by a story of important research on anthrax not being conducted for fear of animal rights terrorism. From the story:
Last week a commotion erupted over a canceled anthrax project at Oklahoma State University (OSU), Stillwater. The National Institutes of Health had agreed to fund the study, which involved creating an animal model of anthrax infection in baboons, and the university's animal use and care committee had given it the green light. But OSU President Burns Hargis decided that the project would not be allowed on campus, for reasons that weren't immediately clear.

Hargis made the decision based on several factors, OSU's vice president for research and technology transfer, Stephen McKeever, told ScienceInsider on Friday. "The issue he was mostly concerned about was that he really did not want to attract controversy from the violent elements of various animal rights groups. He did not want to put OSU in that spotlight and so unnecessarily distract from or interfere with current research." Although McKeever says no specific attacks or threats against OSU factored in the decision, attacks by animal rights extremists have been on the rise in the United States in recent years.

That's the point of terrorism, to use fear as a cudgel to affect policy. This is just one example of the harm being done by animal rights terrorism, about which the general movement--with notable exceptions, such as Gary Francione--remains mostly silent or tacitly in support. That is why I no longer think of animal rights as a peaceable movement.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Threat of Lawyers to Animal Research

P. Michael Conn, co-author of The Animal Research War, warns about the plan to use the law to undermine--and eventually destroy--animal research in a column in The Scientist. This isn't alarmism. These law clinics at universities like Harvard and Rutgers hope to set lawyers in motion to do just that. From his column:
Under current US law, things are either property or persons. Legal rights for animals require the establishment of personhood; property cannot have rights. US welfare laws view animals as property, but emphasize our responsibility to care for them humanely. The effort to ascribe "personhood" to animals is a central focus of animal rights supporters, since changing public perception of animals is one way to stop their use in food, clothing, entertainment, and research. In some jurisdictions, "pet owner" has been replaced by "animal guardian," ascribing a different status for the animal. References to animal researchers as "vivisectors" who "exploit" "sentient beings" and practice "torture" and "cruelty" (applied generally to research), also impact the public. In a poll earlier this year (May 7–10), only 57% felt that animal research was morally acceptable, down from 62% in 2004.

The future may see an attempt to recognize Aristotle's three categories: things, animals, and persons. Animals may not ultimately enjoy the rights of persons, but the law may become increasingly specific about our obligation to care for them. If, on the other hand, "personhood" for animals is achieved, this status is likely to be in conflict with animal research. Failure to address developments in the education of law students is likely to have a long-ranging impact on the ability to develop new treatments needed for human and animal well-being.
I discuss this matter at some length in my upcoming book A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy. The threat is real, ranging from obtaining the right for animals to sue--supported by Obama Regulations "Czar" Cass Sunstein and Harvard law professor Lawrence Tribe--to having them declared "persons," a current such case involvling a chimp now in front of the European Court of Human Rights. We ignore Conn's warning at great peril to scientific advancement and the alleviation of human suffering.