The best argument against vivisection is grounded in common sense and is as irrefutable as basic mathematics.
Unfortunately, the popular argument against (nonhuman) animal research is often an emotional appeal using images of cruelty and/or relies heavily on academic philosophy and scientific studies.
A picture does speak a thousand words, but to assume that people will be against vivisection merely by showing them torture photos underestimates the ability of the human mind to accept and excuse violence and suffering. Rene Descartes, who famously said, “I think therefore I am,” demonstrated the limits of his cognitive ability by suggesting that the cries emitted from the animals he experimented on were merely the crashing together of mechanical gears. The undercover videos from Huntingdon Life Sciences that revealed puppies being punched in the face and technicians laughing as they tortured a monkey are nothing new. In a correspondence of author Lewis Carroll, a friend mentions attending a scientific demonstration in which the audience of medical students mocked the screams of a vivisected animal upon the operating table. There are humans who enjoy causing suffering and take pleasure from witnessing suffering.
And the position that nonhuman animal research is scientific fraud, a waste of time, and dangerous to human health, has a couple of serious problems in its power to persuade.
First of all, I suspect that many vivisectors are probably sociopaths and incapable of comprehending the emotional states of others unless it has some benefit to themselves, and if you have ever tried reasoning with such a person you know that a fire hydrant has a better chance of singing an aria than a sociopath does of understanding compassion or fairness.
Animal experimentation must be a very attractive profession to such people—why torture cats and rats in your basement and risk being placed on an FBI serial killer watch list when you can do it in a university or hospital and be eligible for taxpayers’ money and prizes started by a weapons manufacturer?
But even if you have undeniable proof that the research is useless or a danger to human health, one should contemplate this question: is a fence sitting audience member more likely to trust the word of an animal activist who says they are concerned about human health, or a corrupt animal researcher funded by the side that supplies drugs and treatments? Squabbles over research data that ends in he said/she said exchanges are a gift to vivisection supporters. It allows them to hide behind technical data that audiences wouldn’t understand, which works in favor of the status quo.
The other problem is that if just a tiny shred of research using non human animals may yield knowledge, even if it’s obvious like discovering that fire can burn the skin of a mouse, then someone on the vivisection side is going to bellow about how that proves it is worthwhile.
Your average vivisection supporter has zero respect for non human lives and regards them as disposable. Such people think they are better than mice, rats, cats, dogs etc. (maybe they give an exception to chimps and dolphins but if so it’s because they highlight the shared intelligence capacity). They cling to a belief in human supremacy as an absolute objective fact (even when they try to deny such a belief by hiding behind a survival of the fittest mantra).
That enduring childish fable was discussed in the previous article and we’ll summarize the argument against it later on—but first we’ll run through the common sense reasons why vivisection cannot be justified.
It is a perversion of altruism and compassion–you attempt to heal Peter by torturing and killing Paul. It is like trying to help a homeless man by kicking a family out of their house, beating them to death and moving the former in (except that finding a home for the homeless man is a sure thing–animal researchers have been trying to cure cancer for hundreds of years without success). The fact that the number one answer to criticism of animal research is a citation of alleged benefits proves that animal researchers lack a common sense understanding of morality and ethics–since we wouldn’t allow murderers or thieves to cite the benefits they or their family attain from their actions to justify murder or theft.
It is medical fraud–if you wouldn’t think it is rational to find a cure for diseases in giraffes by experimenting on elephants why would you think it is rational to cure disease in humans by using mice, rats, dogs or chimps? If you think animal researchers are strictly motivated by compassion, how many new drugs do they give away for free? Animal research is big business for scientists and cage manufacturers, and the former have a vested interest in conjuring up new experiments to keep their paychecks, while telling the public that the research is important and a “breakthrough.” A week does not go by without another report of a scientific miracle thanks to non human animal experiments; although usually with the proviso that human trials are years away.
It shares some similarities with ancient augury and the practices of witch doctors. Pagan priests would cut open live animals and read their entrails to encourage the hope and health of society (a good harvest, easy childbirth). Those that opposed it endangered society by angering the gods. Today, researchers claim that if nonhuman animal research stopped, the world would descend into a hell of disease and misery (without explaining why society and culture endured even during the Medieval plague). By their logic, humans should have been extinct eons ago. Animal researchers promote the view that life works according to a quasi-Darwinian “Great Chain of Being” hierarchy where animals follow a ladder of complexity–starting with worms and ending with humanity, and that you can take them apart and reassemble them as easily as a jigsaw puzzle. If animal research is necessary for producing safe drugs and treatments why then do we need clinical trials on humans? Why does Pfizer have to conduct medical trials in Africa? Why do drugs like Thalidomide get pulled after being shown to be safe in nonhuman animals? If one had a choice between a drug tested only on rats or chimps, and a drug tested only on humans, which would you deem safer for people? The answer determines one’s belief in the importance on nonhuman animals in research.
Animal research treats nonhuman animals in ways that would be considered an atrocity if done to even the most despised criminal in history-even though they would yield safer research results–and yet, nonhuman animals commit no crimes. Why do they deserve such treatment?
Such discussions never go far without someone saying: “if you had to save the life of your child, would you not sacrifice a rat?” Ignoring the fact that scientists cannot find cures for illnesses by simply torturing a few or thousands of rats to death, the answer to this should be no less controversial than if you had a choice between your child and a neighbor’s. If you chose your child, does it mean you want the neighbor’s child to be tortured in a lab? If you refuse to choose, does that mean you do not love your child as much as your neighbor’s? This type of question is not raised, even when common sense tells us that the best and safest research model for human disease is another human. If finding a cure for disease is so important, why aren’t scientists and patients advocating the use of criminals or volunteers in medical experiments? Humans are the best and safest model for research, and we send healthy people off to be maimed and killed in wars for natural resources, religion and political ideology, and yet the war against cancer is only considered of dire importance when it comes to the discussion of abolishing nonhuman animals in research. The more recent claims that genetic engineering can alter the physiology of nonhuman animals so they are better models for human research, which led to a renewed explosion in vivisection experiments, also exploits public ignorance, since it requires faith that scientists understand Nature so well that they can predict how the physiology of other species will react to the altered genetics. But even if they could turn a nonhuman into a perfect copy of human anatomy with the same responses to chemicals, the torture and death that would be required to reach such a point could not be justified by the discriminatory ethical arguments based on the false belief in human supremacy as mentioned below.
Researchers and their proponents say animal rights activists can’t protest animal research if they have benefited from research that has been linked to animal research experiments. But they ignore that research on humans against their consent has also been done and the research preserved. Do they make the same demand of human rights activists that they cannot use anything that may be traced back to human experimentation? The work of Joseph Mengele is well known, but there is also James Marion Sims, former head of the American Medical Association who experimented on black slaves and was awarded for his humanitarian efforts by a statue in New York’s Central park.
Researchers say they need to use nonhuman animals for research because they are like us–and yet they say they deserve no rights because they are not like us. This highlights the real issue–the motivation for animal research beyond money and sociopathic tendencies is an arrogant belief that humans as a species are superior in value to all other life, based upon arbitrary, non-absolute and subjective criteria conveniently determined by those who stand to benefit from the discrimination and exploitation. Sims and Mengele thought the same way.
But such a belief in supremacy does not stand up to scrutiny.
Those who believe in a moral code of universal human rights but deny extending rights to nonhumans have two significant problems. The criteria(s) they use to justify this discrimination (faculty of reason, a soul, divine or evolutionary favor, moral reciprocity, survival of the fittest, might makes right, individual selfishness, a bundle of characteristics or vaguely defined ones etc.) cannot be proven to be possessed by all humans or lacking in all nonhumans. i.e. some humans are more intelligent than others, some nonhumans are more rational than some humans, humans can and do willfully break laws and yet the most despised of criminals is supposedly more deserving of care and respect than the most innocent of beings.
Secondly, the importance of such criteria can be doubted– shown not to be objective absolute truth, but subjective, non absolute, personal opinion criteria, conveniently determined by those who stand to benefit from the discrimination they wish to justify. Nature(or invisible deities), through environmental phenomenon, weather, earthquakes, and the actions of other human beings, cannot be shown to care or favor humans over other lifeforms as an absolute objective fact. This subjectivity means that someone who may discriminate against other humans (which happens despite the laws and philosophy designed to curb such incidents) using criteria that is just as subjective (skin colour, gender, class, religion, survival of the fittest, individual selfishness, etc) cannot be effectively condemned by a human rights advocate who denies rights to nonhumans, since both are discriminating according to subjective non absolute criteria of value they deem to be important. Pragmatic appeals to self-interest and the Golden Rule are also dubious, since a dictator or criminal may exploit and kill and never need to care about the rights of others or face prosecution, and a man living on one side of the globe does not necessarily have a practical reason to care what happens to humans in a far away country.
The only way for a human rights advocate to consistently argue that one ought to have systemic universal human rights and an ethical code based upon this idea is to extend the concept of fairness and justice to nonhumans as much as possible. Because humans develop ethical codes to govern human behavior, and nonhumans do not appear to employ or require such codes in their social interactions, they benefit from the consistency requirement in human concepts of fairness and justice without needing to reciprocate. To expect them to adhere to human moral contracts in order to be eligible for moral regard is like expecting a blind man to be able to read and then punishing him for failing to (and conveniently overlooks that children, the mentally handicapped, and criminals are not held to the same requirement).
That moral regard may not be possible or practical in all situations due to particular factors (such as scale or absentmindedness or the inability to be perfect), but since the same is true of inter-human relations, it does not invalidate the merits of the argument or provide a loophole for humans to justify systemic exploitation of nonhuman lifeforms (since one could then justify the same for humans).
The approach uses the lack of an absolute, objective certainty in the claim of human supremacists and the reality of human discrimination against and predation upon other humans to force the observer into a choice, either extend rights to non humans, or accept that their belief allows humans to discriminate against anyone, including other humans, thus undermining their desire for an application of universal human rights.