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Why Human Rights Come Before Animal Welfare

10/31/2004 - 5:30 AM PST

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Violence Rises Against Research Efforts

OXFORD, England, OCT. 31, 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 shares.

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 Jews.

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 Observer report.

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.

Tests defended

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%.

Nature's favorite?

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 possess rights.

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. ...

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