This is the first time I’ve waded into the choppy surf of the animal rights debate. This post won’t be long, just wanted to make a few brief observations.
With regard to animals in medical experimentation, while I’m not completely against using animals in such ways, some opponents of any limitations would want us to consider what we would do without a particular form of experimentation (no matter how cruel) from the point of view of the severely sick and isolated person who has been offered a cure or risks facing the continuation of his condition. Such a situation parallels that of a starving person who has morsels of cake held under his nose and up to his lip. You wouldn’t refuse to eat now, would you?
Is this the right context for considering the question of limits on the use of animals in medical experimentation? It seems to me that it strips us of any human support, of any human community. In our mind’s eye we picture the severely sick person surrounded by no one but a team of doctors–or perhaps a team of doctors and a completely healthy person who had been sick who is now skipping and frolicking in the background. In their snow-white lab coats, the doctors begin to talk: “Sir, how can you say no to this particular type of animal research? –Look at the healthy person dancing behind us! Did you know that you, too, could be just like him? . . . On the other hand, you could choose against animal experimentation and die as a lonely, paralyzed victim of what the whole world takes to be your own foolishness. Take your choice.”
Often, basic research simply won’t bring about any cures imminently, and those medical applications which eventually do materialize will come far down the road, after numerous progression points. If the pain and suffering we have to inflict on animal after animal surpasses a certain threshold, perhaps at least in cases such as these, when a cure is still a long ways away, our society needs to say, “No thanks,” and simply foreclose the option of conducting that type of research–which doesn’t mean we can’t advance other types of research into the illness.
And we just won’t tell the sick person, “Look what could have been . . . .” Instead we’ll make a pact: If a terrible disease afflicts me, you’ll hold my hand. And if a terrible disease afflicts you, I’ll hold your hand. We won’t leave each other alone. We’ll give each other support and help. We all have to die sometime, after all. Perhaps we need to find the courage–as well as attempt to give other people the courage–to make decisions which leave intact our humanity during the short time we’ve been given.