LE: NEAVS was established in 1895 as an advocacy group for nonhuman animals used in research and experimentation. In 2014, vivisection is still standard procedure in many institutions and is inaccessible to the general public in terms of transparency of practices or conditions of the animals in labs. In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge to abolishing vivisection?
AA: To be precise, NEAVS was founded to “expose, oppose and end painful and lethal experiments on paupers, criminals, imbeciles and animals.” Political incorrectness of the Victorian language aside, when we were founded humans were as victimized by the emerging new science as were animals. Today there are safeguards for any research involving humans including full disclosure, voluntary participation and the right to withdraw from the experiment at any time. Yet, animals remain utterly vulnerable without even the most basic protections. Laws, like the US Animal Welfare Act, are concerned more with husbandry and have no influence over what the actual research can or cannot do to an animal. Acceptance of any protocol, no matter the severity of suffering or prolonged death, depends on the approval of institutional committees whose job it is to review the proposed research. Sadly, it typically amounts to a rubber stamp – in particular protocols with substantial associated grants. Multiple studies have shown how inconsistent and ineffective most of these committees are. In short, what has changed very little is the level of true protection animals are offered, the rhetoric of laws and government inspections aside.
I do believe that most people are not cruel by nature. However, I also know, as a psychologist and observer of human behavior, that ones’ tolerance for violence, or any misdeed, increases with time and exposure to progressively, incrementally more violent, unethical, or even illegal acts. It seems to be just how we are wired. We acclimate. Otherwise how would so many have survived the kinds of atrocities humans have known, or live in an area that precariously sits on a fault. We acclimate. The human ability to accept more and more is how someone graduates from burning ants, to killing cats to killing children. We acclimate. I believe the first deterrent to change is that atrocities are normalized. The desensitization that happens to researchers, animal caregivers and research assistants is the first assault against any animal in any lab. You simply cannot keep doing what is being done without having some critical piece of your compassion turned to off, or at best, turned down to a faint, low murmur. If it does not turn down or off, then you leave the job. And if it actually was turned up higher than when you started, then you leave the job and do something! So the first obstacle to change is how institutionalized vivisection has become and how institutionalized its human participants become. This is where work like that of Marshall and McArthur comes in. Someone has to help us still “see” what we are doing. Feel the sting, the fiery burn of rage and sadness that we, who have not been numbed, feel as the animal screams, or has nothing but panic and fear in their eyes, or cowers and shakes at a human’s approach. We have to help others see not just what they do, but also that they have sacrificed a part of them themselves when little by little they became more and more the perpetrators. We must commit to trying to help them access their humane humanity — since humanity exists in many forms, including one capable of great evil.
On a more practical level, we have to help researchers and the institutions they fuel, realize money comes with alternative, non-animal research and not just with animal use. That means filing and passing legislation that requires alternatives, where they exist. Thus guaranteeing a market, thus driving economic incentive for more companies and individual researchers to spend the time and money it takes to bring new alternatives to market. These two pieces go together…really. The pursuit of wealth can be a very blinding force, often translated as “Money is the root of all evil.” If I see only the dollar, then what I do to make that dollar becomes of secondary concern…especially if what I do is legal, rewarded, and praised as being for the sake of all mankind as it is with medical research. If we can turn the researcher’s head, waving substantial grants to get their attention, alternatives will become common place. And then, the vivisection industry will begin to see exactly what it is we now see. I don’t believe for one second that the stall in ending animal use is about good science. We know that alternatives are producing more accurate results that truly benefit human health and well-being. It is shown time and again. That alone, if this was all about science, would mean an accelerating rate of change with animal research being replaced in every corner—biomedical research, basic research, testing, training and education. Such modern science and techniques can deliver the knowledge and preventions and cures that we so desperately need. But to get them to “see” this, we must accept that the first step may sound like “show me the money,” followed by “yes we can do this”. And then the long awaited “How in god’s name did we do what we did?” as has been heard when the end came to every great injustice from burning witches, to slavery, to dropping bombs and other cruelties in the service of power and money.
LE: In the many years NEAVS has agitated for change for nonhuman animals used in research, what are your insights about vivisectors who carry out this work?
AA: I believe the saying, “Change happens one funeral at a time.” There are today in every school, lab and government office, the “old timers” who are staunch supporters of the status quo. While science is about forward thinking, progress, creativity, and so on, I find, when it comes to animal use the higher ranks are instead still filled with nay sayers…those who simply have made a 40 or 50 year career doing animal research and are not strong enough of character to say, “I could have, should have, done it differently.” Instead, they defend animal use even in a climate of advances that few deny are superior replacements to the animal model — no suffering, no death, less costly, more timely and more accurately predictive for human health. Younger researchers are more and more with us…they too see their field changing. They are often very dedicated to finding better ways to do something than causing suffering and pain to monkeys, or rats or dogs. The difference between them and us is how long we think it will take to get there. I wonder, as nature does not tolerate a void, just how long it would take if suddenly animal use were not an option? I suspect we would see some of these great minds finally hunkering down. For example, graduate students today are often outperforming their professors in creativity and novel approaches to age old problems. They are on board with ending the lesser scientific invalid animal model. So change is on the horizon. One major obstacle however, are the lobbyists for the pro-animal industry —those who profit billions each year from breeding and selling animals, and manufacturing caging, equipment, food, etc. Our major opponent is vested in the status quo and fully capable of major national propaganda campaigns assuring the public that ending research on ONE mouse will cost someone their entire family. Researchers themselves, especially women researchers and younger ones, are open. And that is very exciting. The line between us and them is blurred. A few more funerals of the aged old guard and the rising in ranks of those committed to ending animal use and doing good science will hold the wheel. In the end, the winning cards will be money and better science. But once those aces are played, science will look back and be horrified by the cruelties and shoddy ethics that allowed animal use, with all of its atrocities, to continue for more than a hundred years..
LE: Can you talk about how technology is affecting the transition towards the eradication of nonhuman animals being used in research?
AA: The area of alternatives is frankly huge. I would refer you to our website for an answer to this. The new technologies are what are allowing us to see what poor science the animal model is. How inaccurate it is. Limited, flawed, even dangerous. From MRIs to sophisticated computer simulations, to bench in vitro methods…it is all happening…and it will replace the use of animals, the only method in science that still is held on to despite how shoddy it is. Think of it:the computer you buy today, the smartphone you bought yesterday, will be replaced by better models with more capabilities in less than a year. The economics of the electronic industry keeps companies perfecting. We need a parallel universe when it comes to the technologies that can and will replace living animals. Somebody has got to get rich, very rich. And that’s fine when it means an end to so much senseless suffering and death. The universe herself would breathe a sigh of relief if one day the cries of the animals were silenced by the hum of some new gismos gadget that could in fact find those cancer genes, that artery blockage, those fat cells and electronically or chemically knock them out. Sci-fi? Not at all. Tomorrow’s science? Not at all. Advances like these are real and are happening today. They are the great hope for the animals.
The New England Anti-Vivisection Society is our Featured Animal Ambassador for May 2014.