An Odyssey with Animals
In his new book, an animal researcher reflects on animal rights and what extremists get wrong
I have studied and cared for animals for more than 50 years as a veterinarian and biomedical researcher. But it wasn't until I saw my friends and colleagues harassed and terrorized by animal rights activists nearly 30 years ago that I began actively defending the humane use of animals and research. My activism earned me a destructive visit from the same fringe element.
It all started in 1981 when I began to defend neuroscientist linkurl:Edward Taub,;http://www.psy.uab.edu/taub.htm a researcher in Silver Spring, MD, who had been targeted by the founders of the fledgling People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA). Angered by what I had seen Taub -- who is now at the University of Alabama at Birmingham -- suffer, I became an active defender of biomedical researchers who use animals in their work.
On the night of January 14, 1990, animal rights extremists invaded and vandalized my University of Pennsylvania laboratory. File cabinets were ripped open, correspondence stolen and the walls smeared with slogans. In the months that followed I received hate-ridden letters and threatening phone calls, while articles appeared seeking to destroy my scientific reputation.
By attacking me nearly 20 years ago, members of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), a nebulous group of animal rights activists that has a record of violence and vandalism, attempted not only to trash my research on sleep mechanisms but also to use me as an example for those who might consider speaking out in support of using animals in research, as I had. This was clearly enunciated by one of PeTA's founders, linkurl:Ingrid Newkirk,;http://www.ingridnewkirk.com/ a major apologist for the ALF, as quoted in the __The Village Voice__: "PeTA intends to use Morrison to persuade other vivisectors who were heartened by his strong stand on animal research that it doesn't pay off," Newkirk said in the article. "Now the spotlight is on him, and what happens next will deter others who might want to follow in his footsteps."
That threat was not trivial. It has taken two decades to waken more than a handful of biomedical researchers to the dangers posed to their work and human (and animal) health by extremists in the animal rights movement. Only recently researchers have launched concerted efforts to denounce such actions publicly: petitions have been signed and articles written to encourage scientists to stand firm against those who seek to terrorize us.
In the three decades that I've been speaking out about the benefits of animal research, my position has changed from outrage to careful consideration of the issues, and now I recognize some moderate voices that only seek to better the treatment of the animals science uses.
My brush with animal rights extremists compelled me to write the book, linkurl:__An Odyssey with Animals: A Veterinarian's Reflections on the Animal Rights & Welfare Debate__.;http://www.amazon.com/Odyssey-Animals-Veterinarians-Reflections-Welfare/dp/0195374444 Out of my negative experiences arose my desire to tell a story about animal rights -- a story that ultimately went beyond the animal rights debate to explore human beings' long-term and complex relationships with animals. Odyssey examines how humans and animals are alike, how we differ, what we can learn from them, and how we can use them. It is a story about those who seek to better the lot of animals under human control, a notion that any humane individual must support. But Odyssey also considers those who go well beyond the norms of civilized society in their efforts to blur the distinction between humans and the animals we use.
The ideas I express in Odyssey arise out of the ambivalence that I feel using animals for human benefit -- often to the detriment of the animals. I believe my personal idiosyncrasies to be within the norms of society at large. The central questions in this book are: May one ethically and morally interfere in the lives of other species, to the point of harming and even killing them? When is the use of animals appropriate and when is it not?
And most importantly: Are there good reasons to put humans into a special category that excludes other animals, while still recognizing our relatedness to them?
I think there are. We humans are not intruders in the world but a part of it, and we have as much right to make our way in it as any other species. At one level we are animals living amongst animals. We are prolific, omnivorous and predatory. But we also have the capacity to be responsible predators. This includes the capacity to subordinate our predatory behaviors toward other animals (as well as toward ourselves) to the governance of moral and legal rules that we propose to each other, accepting or rejecting these rules on the basis of their reasonableness. We have made mistakes in various spheres of animal use that have been and continue to be corrected. We can only do this through science though, not uninformed legislation driven by emotion.
Now, nearly 30 years after my introduction to the extreme end of the animal rights movement, I have a more measured and informed view of the issues. In the midst of the controversy I had become embroiled in, I forgot one very important thing: I love animals and do not enjoy harming them. After all, that is why I became a veterinarian. But through the years I have learned to separate the radical from the sensible regarding animal welfare, and to appreciate that there can be honest disagreements about what, exactly, "sensible" means.
linkurl:__An Odyssey with Animals: A Veterinarian's Reflections on the Animal Rights & Welfare Debate__,;http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Medicine/Ethics/?view=usa&ci=9780195374445 by Adrian R. Morrison, Oxford University Press, New York, 2009. 288 pp. ISBN: 978-0-195-37444-5. $29.95.
__linkurl:Adrian Morrison;http://www.med.upenn.edu/ins/faculty/morrison.htm studies the neural control of sleep and wakefulness in rodents as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Laboratory for Study of the Brain in Sleep. Because of his stand against violent and destructive tactics used by some animal rights activists, the American Association for the Advancement of Science awarded him their 1991 Academic Freedom and Responsibility Award.__
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:School halts baboon anthrax study;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/56193/
[1st December 2009]*linkurl:A Legal Challenge to Animal Research;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/56167/
[December 2009]*linkurl:The War on Animal Research;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/54494/
[April 2008]*linkurl:New Group Joins Animal Research Public Relations War;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/11379/
[25th May 1992]