Pro-Animal or Anti-Human?:

A SARS Revelation Originally published at National Review

The animal-rights/liberation movement (ARL) will never win an award for truth in advertising. If the facts serve their cause, yes, they will tell the truth. But if a half-truth or even an outright lie better suits their purposes – well, what does honesty matter when the cause of ending human hegemony over animals is so important and just?

Perhaps the biggest – and potentially most harmful – lie told regularly by ARLists is the whopper that medical research can be ethically and empirically conducted without using animals. While it is true that medical researchers have developed some alternatives to animal use in recent years, such as computer simulation and the use of human-cell lines, these tools are merely useful supplements and complements – not replacements – to research with animals. Now, and for the foreseeable future, medical researchers will have to involve animals if they are to be successful in their efforts to find cures and treatments for the illnesses and injuries that are responsible for so much human suffering.

This truth has been vividly demonstrated in just the last few weeks. Seemingly out of nowhere, sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a new and deadly disease, began to quickly spread around the world. (As of this writing, thousands have contracted SARS and nearly two hundred have died of the pneumonia-causing illness.) To stem the spread of SARS and prevent a pandemic, under the auspices of the World Health Organization, researchers began a frantic search for its causes.

If animal-rights activists/liberationists had their way, this urgent mission of mercy would have been hampered significantly. The alternatives that ARLists advocate in lieu of animals – e.g., computer simulations, human cell lines, autopsy reports, case studies, and the like – would simply not have been sufficient to get the job done.

When SARS first appeared, scientists were not even sure what pathogen caused the disease. Many suggested that a heretofore-unknown coronavirus, a virus closely related to the microbe that causes the common cold, was the SARS pathogen. But there was also evidence that the disease might be caused by the matapneumovirus, an altogether different type of microbe.

To find out for sure, scientists conducted a standard research protocol known as the Koch postulates, designed to help researchers identify the specific pathogen causing a particular disease. First they placed the suspect coronavirus into the nostrils of monkeys to see if they would become ill. Many did. Then, the lungs of the animals infected with SARS were studied under a microscope, to see whether the damaged caused by the induced disease was similar to that suffered by infected humans. It was. As a result of these animal studies, WHO researchers have announced that the coronavirus is, without a doubt, the cause of SARS.

The Koch postulates require living, breathing organisms for researchers to infect and study – which means that either animals or humans must be used. Since the experiments are not intended to benefit the research subjects but, indeed, to make them sick and cause their deaths from disease, using animals was the only moral choice. At least, that is true if one believes that human lives matter more than animal lives.

No fair, animal-rights activists/liberationists will cry. Animals feel pain just like people do. And in these experiments, animals were forced to suffer!

Yes. Animals do feel pain and the monkeys most likely did suffer. But their suffering was a regrettable necessity, not lightly undertaken, which provided the entire human community a tremendous benefit not otherwise readily obtainable.

Thanks to the now-certain identification of the SARS pathogen, scientists can move to the next stages of combating the disease. Researchers will attempt to develop a reliable diagnostic test. They will also try different treatment protocols. They will work assiduously to develop a vaccine. And – since it appears that the SARS virus may have originated in animals – they will conduct an intense search to find the animal from which the disease emerged.

Of necessity, all of these endeavors will require conducting research on animals, some of which will be intentionally infected, some of which will suffer, some of which will die. But our choice is either to sacrifice these animals or hinder the battle against SARS, leading to much unalleviated human misery and many deaths. That choice is a classic no-brainer.

Despite the obvious need to use animals, as typified by the SARS experiments, animal-rights activists/liberationists will continue to falsely assert that we can advance medical research just as fast and effectively without animals as with them. When pushed to the wall, the more candid ARL activists will admit that they are willing to pay the price of increased human suffering in order to end our use of animals in medical research. Indeed, philosopher Tom Regan, one of the luminaries of the animal-rights movement, asserts in The Case for Animal Rights that the human good we derive from such research is “morally irrelevant.” Rather than violate “the rights of animals,” Regan would have us give up all animal-research-related medical progress.

Meanwhile, the notorious Peter Singer of Princeton University, the guru of animal liberation, has openly suggested a darker road. He believes that humans with a lower quality of life should be used in medical research in place of animals with a higher quality, as measured by cognitive capacity. Thus, as Singer suggested in an interview in Psychology Today, it would have been better to use humans diagnosed with permanent unconsciousness in place of chimpanzees, in the research that culminated in the hepatitis B vaccine.

ARLists tout their movement as one based on deep compassion for the suffering of animals. But that compassion is actually a veneer hiding a dark misanthropy. As their opposition to the use of animals in medical research demonstrates, stripped of its pretensions and emotionalism, the animal-rights/liberation movement isn’t just about being pro-animal: It is also explicitly anti-human.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, and author of Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America. He is currently working on books about human cloning and the animal-rights movement.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.