Alex Keaton and Marty McFly are household names to anyone who grew up in the 80s. Today, “Spin City” is an award-winning TV series. Of course, the person responsible for much of this is Michael J. Fox. But thanks to Parkinson’s disease, the same hand that held the neck of a guitar in Fox’s heavy metal freakout at the end of “Back to the Future” started twitching a little during the filming of “Doc Hollywood.” Three years later, his entire left arm would shake so violently he said he could “stir a martini in five seconds.”
Johnny Cash is a household name. The country music legend has put out over 75 albums since 1955 and has added standards like “Ring of Fire” and “Walk the Line” to the canon. He played regularly throughout most of the 90s. Then, during a Flint, Michigan concert a couple years back, Cash dropped his microphone and stumbled as he tried to retrieve it. When he got hold of the mic again, he told the crowd he has Parkinson’s.
Every time Fox or Cash has a twitching episode, millions of neurons in their brains are destroyed, accelerating the disease’s progress. Eventually, Parkinson’s could render them completely motionless and facially expressionless.
Snuggles is a rat. He is brown, has small ears, a flat nose and a short tail. Though his owner thinks he is a bit slow, Snuggles has some talents. His favorite hobbies are climbing, swimming and busting out of his cage. When he climbs, he uses his tail as a third leg, and when he swims, he can stay under water for over three minutes. Like all rats, his life span ranges between three and five years. Unfortunately for Snuggles, one day he busted out of his cage and climbed himself into a quandary. Sue, his owner, never learned what became of Snuggles, but she hypothesized that her “high strung” landlord might have found the rat and done what he threatened to do if he found any such pets: donate it to scientists in their hometown.
Bubba is a pig. According to a online publication titled Metaconsult, scientists have found that by taking cells from the testicles of pigs like Bubba and transplanting them into brain damaged rats like Snuggles, they can slow down the process of neurological degeneration that results from Parkinson’s. If scientists make enough headway in the near future, maybe we will be able to enjoy not only the talent of Michael J. Fox and Johnny Cash for a few more years, but also the company of about a million other victims.
Likewise, the cutting edge research being done at the University could affect thousands. For instance, researcher Karen Hsiao had 35 mice with a strain of Alzheimer’s that were reportedly stolen by the Animal Liberation Front on Monday morning. The Harvard Medical Journal deemed Hsiao’s work as one of the ten greatest laboratory achievements in 1996. When animal rights activists from ALF say they never harmed anyone in their early morning raid, they are either lying or mistaken. If the onset of Alzheimer’s could be delayed for just five more years, half the potential victims would never get it, according to John Kemp, director of the Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota.
Instead of harming no one, the activists are doing what everyone else is doing: pitting the lives of rats like Snuggles against people like Michael J. Fox. Unlike most people, though, ALF favors the rats, mice and salamanders.
In addition to saving about 75 rodents, ALF also caused about $2 million damage. Much of this damage included research on brain cancer that did not involve any animals.
ALF sure seems to tarnish the concept of animal rights. First of all, by damaging lab equipment that has nothing to do with animals, and sometimes actually is used instead of animals, the group’s members are defeating their own purpose and making themselves look silly at the same time. Second, by raiding the buildings and saving rodents like rats and mice, which are being used to find a way to alleviate the nightmarish affects of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and brain cancer, they are being too confident about a stance that is questionable, at best. One would think members of other groups would want to distance themselves.
In fact, other animal rights groups openly support ALF’s efforts through activities like a vigil for the rats, mice and salamanders near a University research building on Wednesday night, hosted by the Student Organization for Animal Rights.
Kevin Kjonaas of SOAR “completely” supported the actions of ALF. Comparing ALF activists to people who facilitated the freedom of slaves via the Underground Railroad, he said most Americans were just behind the times. To animal rights protesters, an animal is an animal is an animal.
“Where do rights come from? We’re all animals. We have rights based on our capacity to feel pain,” Kjonaas said.
But if that were the case, we would slide down the slippery slope, and to most, the argument seems increasingly more ridiculous. Actually, by saving rodents, the activists started somewhere in the middle of the slope. On our slide to the bottom, we have to ask the obvious questions: What about frogs? Fish? Dragonflies? Ants?
“Well, do ants feel pain?” Kjonaas asked me. If they do, then apparently it would be worthwhile to wage a $2 million war on Elliott Hall’s laboratory to let them roam through their natural habitat — the grass jungle of Northrop Mall.
This logic might seem funny to us, and it might be good news for Bubba and Snuggles. But for Michael J. Fox, Johnny Cash and the millions of other victims of these diseases, the logic is life-threatening.
Though the unpopular ethical standpoint of ALF currently epitomizes the word fringe, one cannot say they are necessarily wrong. Strangely enough, ethics is not always a matter of black and white, like math. It is a matter of democracy. But if ALF wants people to one day be sympathetic to saving animals from enduring the hardships of research at the expense of not curing people like Michael J. Fox, Johnny Cash or a million others, I would suggest taking some baby steps, because their temper tantrum did nothing but backfire.
This is Rob Kuznia’s last column. Next week he will start covering the environment and transit beat for the Daily. He welcomes comments by e-mail to [email protected]