It’s World Day for Laboratory Animals – April 24th. The day was set up in the U.K. in 1979 to mark the birthday of the heroic Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, whose RAF Fighter Command fought off the German Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain in 1940. (Lawrence Olivier would later play him in the movie The Battle of Britain.)
Dowding and his wife, Lady Muriel Dowding, were lifelong anti-vivisectionists.
When Dowding died in 1970, experimentation on animals had already reached mass-production levels. But it was still nothing compared to what goes on today. In the United States alone, it’s estimated that some 100 million animals die every year in laboratories. The exact figures are hard to determine since the most used animals, mice and rats, along with birds and reptiles, are not classified by the government as “animals”, so records don’t have to be kept on their number or how they’re treated.
These non-animals make up about 90 percent of all animals in laboratories. (During Hurricane Sandy, 10,000 mice died in just one New York City research lab when water flooded the basement.)
People who approve of experimenting on unconsenting animals often ask questions like: “Well, if your spouse/child/mother could be saved by a new treatment that needed to be tried out first on a mouse/chimpanzee/dog, would you agree to that?” I once posed that to a friend, who replied:
“If it were about my child, my husband, my mother, I’d certainly want the doctors to experiment on anything possible. Frankly, I’d want the doctors to experiment on you if it would help me. That’s human nature.
“But that’s why we have laws, isn’t it – so that we’re not put in the position of making decisions that are morally wrong and driven by personal emotions and attachments.
“And that’s why it’s just a bogus question. It’s not a matter of what your emotions might dictate in a catastrophic situation; it’s about what society agrees is right and wrong.”
The vivisection industry argues that modern medicine would be crippled without these millions and billions of experiments on living creatures. There are, equally, highly credible studies from organizations like the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the New England Anti-Vivisection Society showing that very little of value has been accomplished – and that much harm has been wrought by treatments that worked on nonhuman animals but were disastrous when applied to human patients.
In any case, most of today’s killer diseases are lifestyle-related, and millions of animals are sacrificed for “research” into cures for diabetes-2, heart disease and the many cancers that are born of ingesting things that we all know are bad for us. We all know perfectly well that these diseases can all be avoided, and in many cases even cured, simply by giving up the bad habit. Why does any unconsenting animal have to die for this?
And then there are all the animals who are crippled and killed so we can practice making war on people we call our enemies? By what right do we drag innocent creatures into our petty human squabbles? (Why, indeed, do we drag our sons and daughters into them?)
But even if you accept the premise that there are real benefits to human health from vivisection, does that make it OK? Here’s what Mark Twain said about that:
“I believe I am not interested to know whether vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or it doesn’t. To know that the results are profitable to the race would not remove my hostility to it. The pain which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity toward it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further.”
Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding would doubtless have agreed that, in the final analysis, any society that bases the health of its citizens on a foundation of cruelty and misery toward other animals cannot ultimately be a healthy one. The cures that it produces will necessarily be fleeting and illusory, and never a prescription for true health and vitality.