[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Animal Rights Africa launch, Joburg, 8 March
grinker at mweb.co.za
Wed Feb 27 19:53:17 GMT 2008
'Animals are less valuable than human beings'
Leading researcher John Martin tells Helene Guldberg why it is morally
justifiable to cause heart attacks in rats - and why he isn't scared of
animal rights extremists.
'I believe that animal research is morally justified because animals are
less valuable than human beings.' John Martin, Professor of Cardiovascular
Medicine at University College London (UCL), does not mince his words.
He also argues that we have bigger fish to fry - no animal pun intended -
than a handful of animal rights activists. 'I think we overestimate their
threat amazingly. I have refused to have my telephone number taken out of
the telephone directory. I think the risk to me is minimal.'
I first met Professor Martin at the launch of the People's Petition in
April, an online initiative set up by the Coalition for Medical Progress
that allows people who support vivisection - the 'silent majority' - to sign
up in defence of medical research. I was immediately impressed by his
unapologetic support for experimenting on animals in the name of advancing
knowledge and medical science.
As I pointed out to Martin when we met again in his office this week, even
most of those who do support vivisection don't seem to want to go beyond
talking about the immediate medical benefits of animal research.
There seems to be an emerging consensus within the scientific community that
we should reject the philosophical outlook that says humans are
'categorically superior' to animals. But how can we really justify the use
of millions of animals in experiments to further scientific knowledge and
save human lives - experiments that include cutting animals open, pumping
them full of toxins and carcinogens, and ultimately 'destroying' them -
unless we believe, and are willing to argue, that human beings are morally
more valuable than animals?
We seem to have become uncomfortable with asserting human superiority. That
doesn't mean, of course, that we live our lives on the basis of human and
animal equivalence. Society simply couldn't function if we did that, if we
really did go around thinking that a man and a dog have the same moral worth
and thus should have the same rights. Those who treat animals in the same
way they treat their friends or family are generally seen as eccentrics, or
even social misfits.
But in political and moral debate, there is a reluctance to declare that
humans are superior and thus that animal experimentation to advance medical
science is not a necessary evil, but a moral good. Even a working party of
the British Nuffield Council on Bioethics, a serious scientific body, said
in a report on the ethics of animal research published last year that it
rejected the idea of 'categorical human superiority' over animals.
What we need, says Martin, is to have a debate asking the basic question,
'What is a human being?' He argues that this is one of the most important
questions for both philosophy and biology over the next hundred years. 'It
requires both a biological and a philosophical analysis - in tandem', he
says. 'And out of the decision about what it means to be human comes
decisions about how we organise society, our laws.in fact, everything comes
What sets us apart from all other animals, Martin argues, is our ability to
generate creative, abstract thought - 'and with that, poetry, music and the
social networks that bind us together'.
And this - our ability to reflect on what we and our fellow human beings are
doing, thereby both teaching and learning from one another - is precisely
what has made human progress possible. Through creative abstract thought we
have been able to build upon the achievements of previous generations.
Yet today, many seem to go along with the idea that animals are ultimately
not that different from humans. This is not the result of intellectual
debate and persuasion, where animal rights activists and thinkers have 'won'
people over to their outlook, but rather points to a broader contemporary
cultural outlook that denigrates human abilities.
This loss of faith in human beings and our capacities has far-reaching
repercussions. Martin points to the problems currently faced by the medical
profession. 'I have just come from a case presentation where some doctors
were telling us that after Harold Shipman [the GP who was convicted in 2000
of the murder of 15 of his patients, and who was suspected of killing many
more] it is now almost impossible to prescribe opiates to dying patients in
the community. I heard a presentation from a doctor who said he was running
around on a Saturday night trying to get hold of one vial of opiates to
relieve the suffering of his patient, who was dying in agony.'
This demonstrates a deep lack of trust, he says. 'As doctors we suffer from
the same thing - we have lost our way as human beings. We don't have the
correct leadership. There's this political correctness that has taken over
after Shipman, which says all doctors are bad and need regulating, instead
of trusting us. Of course the occasional Shipman may return in future. But
not to allow doctors to carry opiates in their bags is on the whole a
greater evil than the occasional Shipman.'
Martin wants to put man back at the centre of the universe. And his belief
in human uniqueness means that he fully endorses vivisection. 'People are
demanding better and better medicines. They want to live healthy lives,
quite rightly. The only way we can keep improving medicine is by carrying
out more research, which must involve animals. There's no way around it.'
Martin and his team at UCL are currently trying to develop a novel approach
to treating heart disease, using stem cells. 'We do that by causing heart
attacks in the rats. Stem cells - taken from the bone marrow of the rats -
are then prepared and put into the heart, lessening the effect of the heart
He challenges those who argue against animal research by questioning its
validity, who ask whether it is really scientifically or medically useful.
This has become a common argument recently, put forward not only by animal
rights activists but also by respectable newspaper columnists.
Martin says they are being disingenuous, particularly because they never
engage with the detail of the animal research currently being conducted. 'If
anybody says "it's not valid", I want to know the detail. I want to know
what is not valid about me causing a myocardial infarction in a rat and
looking at the effect of stem cells? I cannot see - no matter how
technologically advanced we become over the next 50 years - how we could get
away from using animals in research.'
Martin also argues that there must be a place for blue-sky research: we
should conduct experiments even when we can see no immediate medical
benefit, in order to further our understanding of physiology. 'This is the
basis of the scientific method', he says. 'Nearly every advance in science
has been speculative in the beginning. Just looking at what happens is the
way we'll understand it, and from that understanding we will be able to
What about the more difficult question of primate research, an issue that
even pro-vivisectionists tend to shy away from? I remind him that at the
launch of the People's Petition he admitted to not having a rational
argument against primate research. 'It is more of a sentimental argument. I
would try not to do it, if possible', he says.
I am concerned about the danger of conceding ground on the issue of primate
research. 'No, I won't concede either', says Martin. 'I have done primate
research myself, but I find it personally difficult to do. Although, if I
was told it was the only way to cure a particular sort of childhood
leukaemia, I would certainly do it.'
The medical benefits of research on primates are beyond question. Such
research is valid and useful because of the genetic and physiological
similarities between humans and apes.
And such research is morally justifiable because in all important respects
primates are not like us. In the six million years since ape and human lines
diverged, apes have not moved beyond their hand-to-mouth existence, nor have
they significantly changed the way they live their lives. As I have argued
previously on spiked, a human child, even as young as two years of age, is
intellectually head and shoulders above any ape (see Why humans are superior
to apes, by Helene Guldberg).
Today's equivocation over primate research - from the top of society down -
is having a detrimental impact on medical research. It is often assumed that
the reason why Cambridge University put a stop to its plans to build a
primate research centre in 2004 is because of the threats by animal rights
activists. No doubt the activists had an impact, but official dithering
about primate research is much more likely to have been the deciding factor.
Research on great apes - chimps, gorillas and orang-utans - was banned under
the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act in 1986, and the UK home secretary's
Animals Procedure Committee says it has the goal of 'minimising and
eventually eliminating primate use and suffering'. It is this defensiveness
about primate research at the heart of government and the scientific
establishment which both inflames the protesters - because they sense that
even officialdom is ashamed of such research - and which also makes
institutions like Cambridge feel isolated when they try to build a primate
Behind today's fashionable view of ape and human equivalence there lurks a
denigration of human capacities and human ingenuity. The richness of human
experience is trivialised when it is lowered to, and equated with, that of
animals. We must not dodge the argument for primate research as we call for
animal experimentation to continue.
From: debate-bounces at debate.kabissa.org
[mailto:debate-bounces at debate.kabissa.org] On Behalf Of Patrick Bond
Sent: 27 February 2008 06:26 PM
To: debate at vmc08.mweb.co.za:SA discussion list
Subject: [DEBATE] : (Fwd) Animal Rights Africa launch, Joburg, 8 March
We would be delighted if you could join us!
8th March 2008, 10:00 - 19:00
Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand (Yale Road entrance)
If you are interested in issues of social justice, ecology, animal rights,
globalisation, sustainability and ethical living, we invite you to join us
for ONE STRUGGLE, a FREE one day exploration into common causes of
oppression, common struggles, and strategies for liberation that connect
humans, animals and the environment.
LAUNCH OF ANIMAL RIGHTS AFRICA (ARA)
At 10:30AM we will be officially launching ARA. In an unprecedented and
historic move, three of the most effective animal protection organisations
in South Africa: Justice for Animals, Xwe African Wild Life and South
Africans for the Abolition of Vivisection have joined forces to form Animal
Rights Africa. ARA is the only organisation of its kind on the African
continent, ushering in a brand new era of strengthened activism for animals.
ARA is committed to the promotion of inclusive justice, showing compassion
across species and building a better future through campaigns, research and
analysis. ARA is self-consciously located in a post-TRC (Truth and
Commission) South Africa of renewal and reconciliation, where our experience
of prejudice, discrimination and violence enables us to empathise with the
suffering of other species.
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