Animal Rights vs. Human Progress
An administrator of a clinic where I worked long ago and far away once told me how he had to go to an orthodox (Jewish) rabbi and get some sort of a special document in order to satisfy his community (and mostly his wife) when a cardiac surgeon decided to put a pig valve in his heart to keep him alive.
I was not as impressed with the gravity of the situation as he wanted me to be. Sure, I know that Jews aren’t supposed to eat anything that comes from a pig because it wallows in the mud and is thus “dirty.”
The prohibition against consuming its flesh is often credited with saving generations of (religious) Jews from getting sick with trichinosis. Medicine has, however, advanced considerably since Biblical designs.
Whatever people believe about our Creator, there is no way that he or she is going to introduce information to the world that we can’t understand because our technology is not advanced enough. Nobody told about genetic recombination on Mount Sinai. Nobody talked about transplantation in the era when the Gospels were being written.
The obvious conclusion is that it is time to stop worrying about right or wrong in religious doctrine and start living as fully and joyously as our medicine and technology will permit. Instead, I find that people whose spiritual beliefs seem associated with organized churches, seem to be given easily to generalizations and even name-calling: blatant intolerance.
The genetic alteration of a pig so that its lungs can be given to a human to save a human needing of a lung transplant does NOT produce some kind of hybrid man-pig. The photo with the article shows a piggish creature not much unlike any other.
Man has domesticated animals to survive, ultimately, by eating them. There is a simple proof that our species was meant to be omniverous, one that I learned a long time ago in undergraduate university, in a class for comparative vertebrate zoology.
You can tell from the length of a species’ intestine what it is able to digest. Herbivores (plant eaters) have longer intestines relative to their size than carnivores (meat eaters). We actually estimated this ratio for a couple of species. Man seems to be right in the middle, which means at least interesting menus, but leaves a big opening for personal choice.
People will always proselytize, and some will get passionate, but personal choice ought to be preserved. That is what humans, and Americans, should be about. So stop thinking, for a moment, about the cute emotional appeals by organizations that urge action (and sometimes over-reaction), and the tiny bunny profile that appears even in their web address.
Think of this. Some people have parodied humans’ use of other species for their own betterment. There is a famous scene in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where at the Restaurant At The End of the Universe a living, talking, cow explains the cuts of meat from which a patron can choose, and how much pleasure the animal will get from committing suicide just so the diners can enjoy their meals.
\Now, I have no trouble with people who choose ethical ways to sacrifice animals and minimize their pain. Nor even with those who pray for animal’s souls. I have not forgotten the cries of a chicken undergoing Jewish ritual slaughtering, whose time came when I visited a slaughterhouse for Kosher animals at a very early age.
I am, however, starting to have trouble with the whole faction of people who want to halt science in what they believe is a humanitarian manner – such as the people who use a cute kitty in their profile.
The emotional examples they propagate of cruelly treated pets are indefensible. I have actually had some of these people try to demonstrate against a lab in a University where I once did some research, long ago and far away — a Catholic University, where I once gently anesthetized a young rat by causing him to breathe ether in a closed glass container. It wasn’t easy, but I learned a lot and may have helped others with the histological tumor studies that ensued. There was no other way. Certainly not the cell culture methods proposed as “alternatives” by the organization cited above. Sometimes scientists look at cells and sometimes at whole organs.
I remember, in medical school, a world weary neurophysiological researcher defending studies of head injuries in cats, telling me and some other medical students how little we knew about traumatic brain injury. I remember him defending his research to some idealistic and starry eyed but passionate young women. He told them, as I think was appropriate, that the research could conceivably be precious if one of their husbands or fathers or boyfriends or sons suffered traumatic brain injury in wartime.
The human cost to our American nation of this kind of injury, in terms of our veterans, is beyond measure. Any way we can get more information about how to treat this kind of condition needs to be welcomed and even venerated.
I said human costs. We work very hard to be both ethical and politically correct. We work very hard to not be sexist nor racist. Whether or not we succeed is a subject for debate, perhaps, but we are closer to doing so than we have been.
We have every right to be “speciesist.” We have every right to put the value of a human life above that of a domesticated animal. We can be ethical and moral but we deserve, in our considerations of our own ecosphere, to promote our own survival.
Sure we can look at the context. But humans, first, please. So every time I find someone on the internet or in real life who talks about playing “God” or scientists destroying the animal world with experimentations, I become frankly enraged and have to hold my temper. It is even more disturbing when such activists cause vandalism or even harm to humans to illustrate their protests.
People who are against the advances in science that can only come from working with animals have never presented, to me or in my presence, data or facts. They are generally unaware of the enormous amounts of committees and ethical overseers who are required for the practical performance of research, who assure that research is ethical, for both humans and animals, and represents scientific advance.
Their appeals are generally emotional, sometimes religious/spiritual, and almost always ignorant of facts. I’ve read about many protests against things that don’t happen. Like urban myths, legends get passed around, conspiracy theories hatched, and the faithful spread them to their fellow travelers. There is room and plenty of it for a constructive egoism for our whole species. We need to protect and extend human life with quality, knowledgeable medicine.
It may seem strange that I think of a religious saying in this context. But I can only think of the quote of Hillel, in the Ethics of the Fathers, a portion of the Talmud, the venerated book of Jewish wisdom.
“If I am not for myself, who will be?”
As humans, if we are not for ourselves, for the extension of human lives on earth and maximizing their quality, there is simply nobody else to do this.