the friend online
26 September 2008


Letters - preview
Testing concern
I know this debate is destined to run and run, especially where Friends are actively working in the area of animal research –with humanitarian intentions, no doubt, though not humane
  • But whenever I hear the pro-vivisection side to the ‘Testing concern’ debate, as set out by Jennifer Steel (19 September), while not doubting the high motives of people who hold those views, I just always find myself coming back to asking how we as Friends, with our peace testimony and strong beliefs about nonviolence, can truly search our souls and still maintain that evil means justify promised, but not even necessarily delivered, good ends


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    David Hitchin, 26 September
    Animal experimentation and the use of language.

    I understand what many Friends have written about animal experimentation and recognise that there is no simple resolution to the tension between the need to research medical treatments (not merely for the benefit of human beings, but also for that of animals) and the need to respect animals as autonomous beings. If this discussion is to generate more light than heat, we must follow Advice 17. “Avoid ... provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations which are unfair or untrue.”

    I am aware that some experimentation, such as for military purposes, is not necessary, and that some is painful, but this is not true of all experimentation.

    The Oxford English Dictionary defines “vivisection” as “The action of cutting or dissecting some part of a living organism; spec. the action or practice of performing dissection, or other painful experiment, upon living animals as a method of physiological or pathological study.” The word derives from the time, before anaesthesia, when living animals were literally dissected before paying audiences. Much animal experimentation, perhaps most of it, does not use dissection and does not cause pain. Surgical training and research sometimes involves operations performed on anaesthetised animals which are not allowed to recover consciousness. The death of such animals is regrettable, but they may well have suffered far less than other animals slaughtered for their meat or fur. The use of the word “vivisection” is too often used for its emotive effect; most animal experiments are not correctly described by this word.

    The word “torture” is similarly emotive and imprecise. It is defined as “The infliction of severe bodily pain, as punishment or a means of persuasion” or “to cause extreme pain,” and the word is generally used in contexts where it implies gratuitous or sadistic motives. I have twice recently been caused great pain by medical procedures, but the doctors certainly did not torture me. The word “cruelty” implies similar motives, and although some people have an absolute objection to any experiments it should be conceded that others who have a different view may have good intentions. Even in situations when experimentation does not cause pain there are other ethical issues which deserve consideration, and these are easier to consider when language is clear and not excessively emotive.

    Jill Greenway wrote (26 September) “I simply do not see how by studying other species which have totally different physiologies from our own we can expect to find the solutions to human diseases.” There are many similarities between human and animal physiologies and many differences. There are records of successful research based on the similarities, and wasted effort and misleading results where insufficient account has been taken of the differences. It should not be forgotten that the Thalidomide tragedy was not the result of animal testing, but of failing to perform enough tests of the kind already know to cause malformation in foetuses. A simplistic approach is likely to produce wrong conclusions; if chocolate had been tested only on dogs then it would not have been permitted for humans. There is a great wealth of evidence about similarities and differences in physiology, and there is scope for a debate about it. The difficulty that I find with the sentence quoted is the word “totally”, and I cannot see how that word can be justified.

    It must be very welcome to everyone that there are so many new techniques that reduce the need for animal testing, but I cannot guess when these will be so far advanced that testing in a whole living organism will no longer be necessary, nor when the first and only organism tested will be the human one. I think that it is misleading to suggest that these techniques are already sufficient to replace all present animal tests.

    Alan Spinks (5th September) put forward a strong case for Friends becoming vegetarian or vegan, and he is to be commended for the simplicity and clarity of his language, which for me makes an unanswerable case. I find it strange that Friends who are so careful not to allow alcohol into our Meeting Houses are quite content to eat animals there.

    David Hitchin


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