Protecting the Rights of Animals
Writer’s comment: The assignment for my Political Science 1 class was to write a position paper, making a political argument and supporting it with evidence. I chose to do my paper on animal rights because it is a topic I have been interested in since the seventh grade. I focused my paper on the cruelty of laboratory experiments because I feel the government can create and implement legislation which will help end these experiments. In beginning to write my paper, I first did an outline and wrote my thesis statement. I then spent most of my time doing research. I used books, periodicals, and newsletters that I received from animal rights groups. While doing this research I took notes on note cards and categorized each card according to my outline so it would be easier to find the information when I started writing the paper. I found this paper easier to write than others I had done in the past because of my interest in and knowledge about the subject.
Instructor’s comment: This writing assignment asks students to think politically by developing and defending a public policy position on an issue of national importance for the United States. The purpose is to construct arguments that persuade other citizens to support one's stance by showing how this position either serves their direct interests or fulfills more abstract objectives that most support. Many select a position that is popular and easy to defend, such as cutting taxes. Michelle Yoshioka chose a far more difficult topic—animal rights—in which humans benefit at the expense of animal suffering. Her sensitive and thoughtful essay represents a fine example of political reasoning and persuasion.
—Stuart Hill, Political Science
Picture this: Researchers place a dog in a device called a “shuttlebox” which consists of a box divided into two compartments separated by a barrier. Hundreds of intense electric shocks are delivered to the dog’s feet through a grid floor. At first the dog is able to escape the shock by jumping across the barrier, but then the barrier is replaced by a piece of plate glass. The dog is tested again and, as expected, tries to jump over the barrier, but instead he smashes his head into the glass. The researchers observe that the dog’s reaction to his situation includes such symptoms as “defecation, urination, yelping and shrieking, trembling, and attacking the apparatus.” After ten or twelve days the dog ceases to resist the shocks. The conclusion of this experiment is that a combination of the plate glass barrier and foot shock was “very effective” in eliminating jumping by dogs (Singer 36).
No medical benefits emerged from this experiment, yet this same experiment continues to be carried out by other researchers. In fact, every 24 hours in this country, about 200,000 creatures die in the name of medical and scientific progress, some in experiments like the one just described (Satchell 4). Many of these experiments are repetitive and unnecessary. Congress needs to pass a law preventing cruel and unnecessary experimentation on animals.
The Animal Welfare Act was passed in 1966, the only Federal law that directly defines the rights of animals. The act sets standards for lab animals’ living conditions but sets no regulations on actual experimentation. The act was amended in 1970, setting standards for the transportation, housing, and handling of animals sold as pets, exhibited, or intended for research, but once again in actual experimentation, there were no restrictions. The act was most recently amended in 1985, when Senator Dole attached it as a rider to that year’s farm bill. The amendment requires animal-care committees established at every research facility to review planned experiments and procedures involved. Each committee must also have one public representative as an equal voting member (United States Code 7:2131).
This amendment has also turned out to be weak. Ann Chynoweth, a researcher for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA, an animal activist group), commented that “There is basically no limit to what can be done to an animal once it is taken out of its cage” (Bresnick 20). The problem arises because the animal-care committees often function as an uncritical peer-review system. For example, at the University of Oregon, the former president required that everyone on the committee take a pro-vivisection oath. Stephen Wise, president of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, found that in his area’s thirteen animal-research facilities, including those at Harvard and MIT, the public representatives included “an exercise teacher, a secretary, and an engineer who was famous for having invented a bomb site” (Bresnick 20). These people have little or no experience with animal rights and easily succumb to the desires of the researchers.
The amendment is also not adequately enforced. The act has not been interpreted to apply to rats and mice. Also the Institute of Laboratory Animal Resources has yet to report an updated survey of animal use in experiments, instead quoting a 1983 estimate. Also, the act requires that animals get adequate pain-relieving drugs in painful experiment, but 130,000 animals in 1987 were exempted from the requirement (Holden 185).
A new amendment must be created, or the Animal Welfare Act must be enforced more strictly to protect animal rights. Animal rights is a concept that states animals have rights like humans, and to deny these rights is a form of racism called specism. Animal activists say violating animal rights constitutes oppression. Animals must be liberated and, since they cannot liberate themselves, they require liberators much like the slaves did (Elshtan 18).
Rene Descartes, the seventeenth-century French philosopher and mathematician, believed animals are simply machines devoid of consciousness or feeling. Immanuel Kant, the eighteenth-century German philosopher, knew that animals could suffer but denied that they were self-conscious (Elshtan 17). These ideas are of the past because there now exists knowledge that animals do feel pain. Animals’ ability to feel pain can be recognized by two factors: the similarity of their nervous system to ours and their behavior when pain is inflicted.
Impulses, emotions, and feelings are located in the diencephalon, which is well-developed in many other species of animals, not just in man. It is especially developed in mammals and birds (Singer 11). In fact, non-human animals’ pain sensation may be more acute because of their need to survive in a hostile environment (Singer 13).
The best way to show that animals feel pain through their behavior is through actual example. Radiation experiments are often done on primates. The monkeys’ eyes are irradiated (treated by exposure to radiation or other radiant energy), and the animals are subjected to shocks of up to 1,200 volts. The primates become so distressed that they claw at themselves and even bite hunks from their own arms or legs in a futile attempt to stem the pain (Elshtan 19).
Experimenters often deny that animals feel pain, but their actions contradict their words. Many experiments are done for the purpose of observing animals’ reaction to pain stimulus. If an animal supposedly does not feel pain, then why do the experiments? Also, some researchers perform an operation called centriculocordectomy, which destroys the vocal chord, before proceeding with the experiment so that the researcher does not need to listen to the groans, cries, and yelps of the animal (Elshtan 17-18).
The ability to experience pain is not unique to humans, yet numerous experiments on animals occur everyday. These experiments are most commonly done for medical purposes and consumer product testing. Examples of medical testing were described earlier in this paper. The most commonly used product test in the consumer industry is the Draize test. The Draize test is used to measure the irritancy of products that might get into a person’s eyes. These products include drugs, cosmetics, household products, agricultural and industrial chemicals, and chemical warfare agents. Typically, six to nine rabbits are placed in stocks to prevent them from clawing at their eyes to dislodge the substances. The lower lid of each animal’s eye is pulled away from the eyeball, forming a small cup. Into the cup, the technician drops some milligrams of a substance to be tested. The eye is then held closed for several seconds. With a particularly caustic substance, the rabbits scream in pain.
The irony of this test is that there are alternative tests that do not use animals that can be implemented instead. There are now what are called in vitro or test tube alternatives. In vitro alternatives involve cell, tissue, and organ systems. For example, chorioallantoic membranes, the membranes covering live chick embryos, can register tissue injury, cell toxicity, and inflammatory and immune responses. Corneal cells taken from mice and rabbits can detect cell injuries. Also various tests with mammalian skin cells on the uptake and release of certain chemicals can indicate cell toxicity (Holden 186). Most recently an in vitro skin has been developed called “Living Skin Equivalents,” which is mass-produced globs of living, growing human skin (Weiss 42).
There are also many advantages of in vitro tests. Economically, in vitro tests are approximately one-tenth the cost of animal tests. Scientifically, in vitro tests can be more precise than many animal tests. John Farber, a professor of pathology at Jefferson Medical College in Pennsylvania, said, “We have been able to manipulate the cultured hepatocytes in ways that are quite impossible with an intact animal” (Weiss 43). It is also possible to learn more about molecular mechanisms through in vitro than by using animal testing. Some say that the problem with in vitro is that it fails to mimic the complexity of the whole, living organism. However, if the data from individual in vitro tests are taken together, the results can be good predictors of human reaction.
In vitro tests are becoming more popular. Two of the largest toxicology labs are actively developing in vitro alternative tests, and private companies such as Proctor and Gamble and Revlon are spending money to look into in vitro methods as well. Still, as Henry Spira, a leading spokesman for the movement against animal testing says, “It seems impossible even to begin replacing traditional methods with alternatives” (Weiss 44). This is because of the bureaucratic entanglement of these tests. Federal regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are hesitant to accept these new tests, saying, “more scientific evidence is needed” (Weiss 44). The EPA would not even accept the Low Level Eye Irritation test, a more humane version of the Draize test, and that test has been studied for more than a decade and is only a modification, not replacement, test.
According to Kailash Gupta of the Health Sciences division of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, “None of the agencies as far as I know has seriously sat down and said that these are the criteria that alternative tests should meet to be accepted” (Weiss 44). Companies are afraid to accept the in vitro tests because of fear of litigation. Someone who reacts badly to one of their products could sue on the basis of inadequete testing (Marcus A3). A company that used animal testing could claim that it tested the substance on animals and its effects were harmless. At the present time, a company that used in vitro tests could not use the same argument. Christopher Kelly of the National Testing Corporation says that nothing short of congressional action is needed to ensure in vitro’s acceptance (Weiss 45).
Other reasons why animal testing is unnecessary are because many of the tests have already been done and also very few experiments actually contribute any important medical research. John E. McArdle, a biologist and specialist in primates at Illinois Wesleyan University, said that “80% of experiments involving rhesus monkeys are either unnecessary, represent useless duplication of previous work, or could utilize non-animal alternatives” (Elshtan 17). The field of psychology has some of the most painful experiments performed on animals that are also the most repetitive and useless. One example involves a kitten and its mother. A week-old kitten was severely shocked every time it approached its mother, eventually absorbing 5000 electric jolts over a month’s period. The mother cat became so frustrated that she would bash her own kitten to keep it from being punished and tried to bite the electrical cord attached to the kitten. The experimenters said they were studying juvenile delinquency (Satchell 5). They’re still doing the same kind of experiment.
Researchers say that the absence of animals in medical research would result in an increased incidence of disease and a higher mortality rate (Hughes 38). This is not true. As already shown there exist many alternative tests. Also, the improvements of people’s life spans and health have occurred largely due to improved sanitation and better nutrition (Detjen 9:1). A comprehensive ten-year study involving seven thousand American male and female adults has demonstrated that the observance of a few positive health practices, such as not smoking, getting enough sleep and exercise, consuming alcohol only in moderation, maintaining proper weight, and eating breakfast, is of far greater importance for the maintenance of health than all the advances of twentieth-century medicine, including those made by animal experimentation (Scharmann 89). There have also been many discoveries made without the sacrifice or suffering of animals. Some of these discoveries are penicillin, the small pox vaccine, the discovery of the cause and method of transmission of yellow fever, and insulin.
In fact, in some cases, experiments on animals have done more harm than help. One has to remember that animals are not the exact biological replicas of humans as is often assumed by animal researchers. For example, fifteen thousand children were born with severe deformities because thalidomide, a sedative prescribed to pregnant women, was found “safe” after extensive animal testing. On the other hand, more sophisticated non-animal tests showed thalidomide to be dangerous to the development of the fetus.
Animal rights activists’ protests about animal experimentation have produced some results. Cosmetic companies such as Avon and Revlon have stopped their tests on animals. Many companies are also researching alternative testing that does not involve animals. Still it is not enough. Animal activists protested Michiko Okamoto’s studies of barbiturate addiction in cats. A review by health professionals concluded that the research was irrelevant to humans, resulting in an end to the experiment. But Steve Sigel, director of Trans-Species Unlimited said, “I thought animal researchers would take a look around and start cleaning house on their own (after the Okamoto incident), but I don’t know of any animal experiments that have stopped” (Rosenberger 30-31).
Animal experiments will not stop on their own. Researchers and companies need the government to guide them. Researchers complain that the regulations mean that using a dog or cat costs $1000 a year, not counting the costs of research (Holden 185). This is not true since research expenses would decrease due to the decrease in research duplication and also the decreased costs of alternative testing. Some bills have been introduced to Congress which are designed to severely curtail and restrict the use of animals in research. Representative Robert Torricelli introduced the Information Dissemination and Research Accountability Act, which would set up a center to approve all federal grants for animal research. The center would require in full text form all biomedical information owned by each federal agency. Representative Barbara Boxer introduced the Consumer Products Safe Testing Act, which would direct federal agencies to require non-animal tests for acute toxicity rather than the animal tests now relied on by the agencies. A bill introduced by Representative Charlie Rose would allow any person to sue the federal government on behalf of research animals. So far none of these acts has been passed (Morrison and Pupura 172).
The Animal Welfare Act should be amended or laws should be created enforcing careful review of all experiments done on animals. A review panel ought to be formed, committed to allowing only necessary experiments which take every possible step for the care of the animals involved. This would not only save many animals’ lives but would also benefit research. The results of an experiment would be more accurate if the animals used were not stressed or in pain. Also, an act needs to be passed requiring companies to allocate some money for finding alternative non-animal tests. Companies should also be required to use non-animal tests whenever possible or face penalties, and federal agencies should quicken the pace of accepting these tests.
Animals have rights just like human beings. These animals can also suffer and feel pain. Animals should not have to be subjected to cruel and unnecessary experiments, especially when there are alternatives to animal testing which could be used instead. Laws need to be passed to protect animals from cruel and needless experiments and also to promote the creation and use of non-animal testing. This would not hinder the medical and consumer industry, as some would argue, but instead benefit them with more thorough and accurate results.
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