|Violence Rises Against Research Efforts
OXFORD, England, 30 OCT. 2004 (ZENIT)
The use of animals in laboratory
tests is continuing to draw violent protests in England. During the
summer, contractors building a new research center for Oxford University
pulled out after receiving threats. Montpellier, the parent company of
the contractor, did not release details, but according to a July 20
report in London's Times, investors in the company had received letters
from animal rights groups threatening them unless they sold their
Most of the animals to be housed in the new center are rodents, along
with some fish and primates. Oxford vowed to continue building the
center with a new company. The problems come after Cambridge University
abandoned plans in January for a neuroscience center involving research
with animals due to sustained opposition by animal rights groups.
Shortly afterward, an adviser to animal rights groups in the United
Kingdom, Jerry Vlasak, declared that assassinating animal researchers
was legitimate, reported the Observer newspaper on July 25.
"I think violence is part of the struggle against oppression," Vlasak
told the Sunday newspaper. "If something bad happens to these people
[animal researchers], it will discourage others. It is inevitable that
violence will be used in the struggle and that it will be effective."
Vlasak likened animal experimentation to the Nazis' treatment of the
Vlasak has links to the organization Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac),
which campaigns for the closure of Huntingdon Life Sciences. He has also
advised Speak, an organization involved in the campaign forcing out the
contractor for the research laboratory in Oxford, according to the
Another activist, Greg Avery, was profiled by the Guardian on July 29.
Avery has been involved in animal rights campaigns for 20 years. In 1999
he founded, and continues to run, Shac.
Avery predicted that even more extreme tactics will be used against
those who work with companies linked to animal research. He described
some of the more than 100 attacks against laboratories and their
employees during the months preceding his interview with the newspaper.
Tactics ranged from pouring paint stripper over people's cars to
throwing bricks through windows. Avery declared that he believes the
animal rights movement is engaged in legitimate protest.
The latest outbreak of violence by animal rights campaigners involved
the theft and dismemberment of a body taken from a grave, the newspaper
Independent reported Oct. 12. Glady Hammond's coffin was exhumed, police
believe, because she was the mother-in-law of one of two brothers who
run Darley Oaks Farm in Newchurch, Staffordshire, where guinea pigs are
bred for medical research. The farm, and the entire village, has been
subjected to repeated attacks by animal rights activists.
Animal tests were defended by a spokeswoman for the drug company
GlaxoSmithKline. Susan Brownlove said it would not be ethical to give
drugs to humans without knowing their effect in a "whole living body,"
the Times reported July 24.
Brownlove explained that when possible the company uses testing methods
that do not involve animals, but that sometimes there is no viable
alternative. She also noted that almost every medical breakthrough in
the 20th century had come about as a result of animal research.
According to official government statistics, animal experiments are on
the decline, having peaked in 1976. Data for 2002, the latest available,
showed that in that year 2.73 million animals were used in tests,
according to a report last July 30 in the Independent. The vast majority
of tests, 84%, involved the use of mice, rats and other rodents. Birds
accounted for 5%, fish another 7%. Dogs, cats, horses and primates
account for less than 1%.
Naturally, not all of those who defend the idea of rights for animals
advocate violence. On a more intellectual plane the question of animals
versus humans was considered in a recent book by philosopher Tibor
Machen. In "Putting Humans First: Why We Are Nature's Favorite," Machen
provides a succinct defense of why only humans can be considered to
The most fundamental objection to the idea that animals have rights, he
explained, is that only humans have the moral nature needed to ascribe
to them rights. Humans alone, argues Machen, alone possess the capacity
for free choice and the responsibility to act ethically.
We can sympathize with the plight of animals, or feel that they are
similar to us, but this does not overcome the fact that humans and
animals are two different kinds of entities. Machen draws attention to
the wild state in which animals live, living in an amoral world. "Only
human beings can be implored to do right rather than wrong," he
observes. The concept of rights emerged with human civilization
precisely because it is applicable to the specifically moral nature of
A simple observation of the world around us, explains Machen, reveals
that there is a hierarchy, ranging from inanimate objects to plants and
animals, and humans. It is with human beings that moral responsibility
enters into consideration. "Normal human life involves moral tasks, and
that is why we are more important than other beings in nature," he
Some argue that animals have rights because they have interests that
they need to fulfill, observes Machen. However, the mere fact of having
interests is not enough to establish a right to something, he argues.
Moreover, having rights also implies respecting reciprocal obligations
of others. If animals were to have rights based on interests they would
have obligations to others. But the animal kingdom does not function in
this way. Zebras may have an interest in not being killed by a lion, but
this does not imply any right that the lion is obliged to respect.
Dealing with another argument put forward by proponents of animal
rights, Machen maintains that the case for human rights does not rest
primarily on the level of intelligence or mental capacity of an
individual, "but rather on their particular type of consciousness."
Other animal rights advocates do not rely on arguments based on
interests or capacities, but maintain that all life is sacred and that
we may not intrude on it. A variant of this position is the argument
that nature is sacred and thus it is morally wrong to disturb it.
But this argument is simply impractical, Machen notes, because we could
not live without killing some animals. The question also arises as to
what or who makes nature sacred? And, could it not be possible that
humans have been blessed in some way so as render our use of nature
Suffering and morality
Sometimes, people are simply distressed over the idea that animals feel
pain or suffer, and they wish to ascribe them rights as a way of
avoiding these problems, Machen acknowledges. Yet, the mere fact of
having rights does not eliminate suffering, as human experience amply
demonstrates, he observes.
Moreover, denying animals the possibility of having rights does not mean
that there are no ethical limits on how humans treat them. Human
morality, Machen notes, involves more than just rights. The exercise of
virtues such as temperance and moderation are also important. Therefore,
when someone behaves in a cruel or wasteful toward animals, this can be
rightly said to damage their moral character.
But, if a reckless disregard for the life or well-being of animals
demonstrates a defect of character, this does mean we cannot use animals
in a responsible way to obtain needed benefits, concludes Machen. The
important element here is to distinguish capricious conduct from what is
needed for human welfare. A distinction those concerned for animals
would do well to keep in mind. ZE04103002