Oct 3, 2009

Should We Experiment on Animals?

On this St Francis Day I thought this might merit some attention.

Full disclosure: I own a dog and I love apes and monkeys of all types. But this piece from Religion Dispatches caught my attention:

In this week's Nature, the scientist Dario Ringach tells the disturbing story of how, because he did research on primates, he was targeted for violent treatment by so-called ‘animal rights extremists’; how after the fire-bomb incident (the bomb was accidentally left on the wrong scientist’s doorstep), for fear of his and his family’s safety, he discontinued his animal research; how he is speaking up now, three years later, because “we’re getting awfully close to the situation where somebody may be killed. There is a general trend toward polarization in our society.”
There is a lot going on here. For now (not because they’re not important), let’s set aside (1) the obvious irony of killing one kind of primate (a person) because you’re upset he’s studying another kind and (2) the glaring analogies to some of the more radical abortion rights foes. Instead, let’s talk about animal research, ethics, and religion.
We Western humans of the Judeo-Christian tradition have come a long way in our understanding and engagement with non-human animals. Crudely put, we realize now that animals are not put here for us to use as we please. And, due in many ways to animal rights activists, research on animals is now done exponentially more carefully than at any point in the history of such work.
When I teach research ethics to the future scientists of the world—graduate students and post-doctoral fellows—we spend a lot of time talking about this. Not just the important party line of the special offices at research facilities devoted to animal care: “refine, reduce, and reuse.” But also about deeper questions: should we do research with animals at all? With certain animals and not others (much of basic research is done on yeast, worms, fruit flies, and mice)? And what kinds of research (research that might cause pain or even death, observational research, etc.)?

Read more here. My thought is that primates and animals that can be domesticated should be hands off.

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