Animal rights is a justified cause

Dick Bianco, the assistant vice president of the Academic Health Center, chose totalitarian tactics to support his personal agenda. On Nov. 11, he filed a grievance against the Student Organization for Animal Rights, not only complaining about their protests but also requesting that their status as a University student group be revoked. What better way for a scientist to defend his colleagues and himself from accusers than by eliminating them!
In his complaint, Bianco specifically mentioned the most recent and perhaps the most sensational protest this fall. From Sept. 7 to Sept. 13, an animal rights activist dangled himself in a tent from the top of Moos Tower using only two tiny pieces of webbing and aluminum equipment. Tied to the bottom of his tent was a banner with the message, “Stop Animal Torture.”
The activist’s demands included a release of research primates, a debate with the researchers, the freedom to inspect the laboratories and an examination by University President Mark Yudof of the University’s research. None of his demands have been met, and instead of forwarding animal rights, the protester seems to have jeopardized the organization’s rights instead. This grievance marks the first time anyone has tried to suspend a student group from the University.
Although SOAR might be overly zealous at times in its pursuit of animal rights, the group brings to light valid and troubling ethical questions regarding the treatment of animals in science. Researchers choosing to experiment on animals face accusations that they exploit animals, perform unnecessary tests fraught with excess cruelty and eschew alternative methods without animals. Justifying their work is merely the price they must pay for working with animals.
Rather than defending the University’s animal research, Bianco is trying to abolish the most prominent animal rights group on campus. Is he afraid to face these ethical questions? If he believes such work is justified in the world of science, why must he escape exposure rather than deal with it and confront his accusers?
In the world of no compromise between animal researchers and animal activists, neither side is willing to give up an inch of their ground. Each side attacks the other, hurling accusations and insults until they are both backed up in their respective corners, yelling across the room at each other. Activists and researchers are both guilty of this useless mudslinging, but because researchers are the ones involved in questionable work practices, they should be the ones to make the first advances.
Instead, they continue to throw mud all the more energetically. Unfortunately, their accusations are poorly reasoned and only partially grounded in reality.
Animal rights activists must withstand many indignant reproaches: they ignore the more pressing problems of mankind; disregard the benefits that millions of people, including themselves, have received from animal research; and equate animals’ lives to humans’ lives. However, these tend to be some of the more stupid counterexamples.
They ignore the more pressing problems of mankind, including war, homelessness, poverty and hunger Yes, greater problems exist in the spectrum of life, but does their mere presence negate all other injustices? Animal activists do not disregard these larger problems. No one does. They have just decided that animal rights is an issue they find compelling; their choice needs no justification. Must a soup-kitchen volunteer justify his work just because he’s not in an organization supporting world peace? Such a pathetic charge as this deserves no further attention.
They disregard the benefits of animal research as well as the personal benefit to their own lives — This holds about as little water as the dumpy excuse above. Obviously animal protesters and their families have benefited from animal research and will continue to benefit during their lives. But does this imply that they should continue supporting these questionable measures? Turning against something that might be benefiting you but which you find ethically unacceptable — is this not the highest loyalty to your values? Weren’t rich slaveholders disregarding the benefits of slavery when they joined the abolitionist movement? Animal protesters are using the benefits they’ve reaped toward a cause worthy of the animals’ sacrifices — ensuring that more animals do not have to die for humanity’s sake.
They equate animals’ lives to human lives or even place animals’ lives above those of humans — This allegation depends more on individual philosophies than some inherent, universal evil. What if someone believes an animal’s life is as important, if not more important, than his own? Are people so egotistical and blinded by their own astonishing species that they can’t tolerate another human being not believing the same thing they do? Considering how humans have overtaken the environment and domesticated animals for their own use, we owe them an enormous responsibility. Animals are somewhat like children — they have neither a voice nor any means of fending for themselves. To lend more support to those who have none rather than to the more capable is neither a flaw nor a sin.
Albert Schweitzer claimed, “The value of a society is based upon its kindness to animals.” Although SOAR might have slightly been out of bounds in some of its protest tactics, it was only attempting to question our society’s principles. None of its actions justify its disbandment. SOAR, like most activist groups, represents a part of society’s conscience, always pricking our otherwise comfortable lives with the injustices of animal exploitation. If the University eliminates this voice of morality, it would not only devalue society, but it would also stray into authoritarian territory, exerting questionable control over this justified dissent.
Samantha Pace’s column appears on alternate Mondays. She welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]