An Odyssey with Animals

In his new book, an animal researcher reflects on animal rights and what extremists get wrong

By | December 4, 2009

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]
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Comments

Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

December 4, 2009

I speak as a licensed psychotherapist. This is all very sad. It seems to suggest that "survival of the fittest" means to dominate those entrusted in our care, as self-aware beings of higher consciousness. ?Survival of the fittest? does not mean that certain beings have to destroy others in order to live, although that is how the arrogant ego-mind justifies its own beliefs. It means that all components of Nature are in a continual process of experiencing how all living things fit together. This is the meaning of to have dominion over those supposedly "beneath" us. The Energy of Nature, which is also our energy, does not play any mind games in order to survive, for Nature simply is?and we simply are, too. \n\nBelieving that one's personal idiosyncrasies are within the norms of society at large is assumptive, arrogant, and misguided -- key factors at play that allow the causing of pain to those ones says one loves. These defense mechanisms account for the inner vs. outer conflicts that manifest as ambivalence towards causing pain to other living creatures. It is very simple: we do not hurt those we love. To do otherwise is to manifest a nightmare, not an "odyssey."
Avatar of: Ellen Hunt

Ellen Hunt

Posts: 199

December 4, 2009

One must ask if this anonymous psychotherapist eats meat, and doesn't speak up for all farm animals. If so, then he/she is far, far worse as a hypocritical figurative cannibal (eating those we love) than someone who undertakes an animal experiment to protect the lives of people we love. \n\nThis anonymous psychotherapist needs to take a walk through a burn unit or a pediatric cancer ward and talk to the mothers of those patients. That will introduce him/her to the problem space of Piaget's "preoperational period" of child development (4-7 years).\n\nTo wit: "...a tendency to focus attention on one aspect of an object while ignoring others. Concepts formed are crude and irreversible. Easy to believe in magical increase, decrease, disappearance. Reality not firm. Perceptions dominate judgment.\nIn moral-ethical realm, the child is not able to show principles underlying best behavior. Rules of a game not developed, only uses simple do's and don'ts imposed by authority." \n\nIn other words, Mr./Ms. psychotherapist, if you won't educate yourself about pain and suffering beyond the simplistic level of a 4 year old with his/her pet bunny rabbit, then you have NO business pontificating about "those we love."
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 4

December 4, 2009

Jesus Christ, are they just giving anybody a psychotherapy license these days!?
Avatar of: David Hill

David Hill

Posts: 41

December 4, 2009

The author of this article laces it with spicy words and phrases to make his point, like "extremist" and "fringe element." This alone should make the reader aware that it does not represent an objective analysis. There are a lot of so-called "scientists" out there pretending that they represent an "ethical" ot "moral" position on social issues. Really, it is a normative position that they represent. Yes, humans are predators, like lions. That fact does not make the human "evil" as it does not make the lion "evil." But, it does not make them "good" or "right" either. There are a lot of reactive comments from people representing the fact that they value actions that help them, or their families. Of course! This is the biological imperative ("The Selfish Gene") that will continue to drive us to kill off other species, other humans, and ultimately, to replace our own species with newly evolved forms, in directions that we cannot now anticipate. A societal norm that supports destruction of other sentient animals? Yes. That is a cultural distinction. Right or wrong? Science makes no moral assumptions, and has no moral postulates either. For myself, I cannot be self-righteous, only observant of this truth. (Ph.D. Zoologist)
Avatar of: Robert Von Borstel

Robert Von Borstel

Posts: 10

December 4, 2009

Here are two reasons why experiments using animals are required:\n\nWith mice as the animal or experimentation, I was able to find a method for saving the lives of mice that had received a lethal dose of radiation simply by injecting them with DNA or with deoxyribonucleosides. \n\nWith mice, my laboratory discovered a principal origin of endometriosis in women. So we know how to prevent stages 3 and 4 in women, the levels at which internal adhesions require total removal of the uterus, the ovaries, and surrounding tissue to undo the the terrible pain caused by adhesions.\n\nThese are two simple examples of why animal experimentation was required. Carrying out the experiments on people would not be as simple, and we can now help people after Hiroshoma/ Nagasaki types of nuclear detonations, and protect women from Stages 3 and 4 of endometriosis.\n\n\n\n\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 107

December 6, 2009

What rights do animals have in nature? What additional rights, if any, do they have in captivity? How do they acquire them?\n\nThomas Jefferson, in framing the classical American statement of human rights, wisely swept these questions under the rug, saying that they were self-evident (which is a fancy way of labeling an assumption) and endowed by our Creator. Good rhetoric, but not very historical. The Jeffersonian notion of human rights is an expansive version of the rights of Englishmen, which had been gradually wrested from the Crown through a series of negotiations over the centuries. The idea of human rights is a political concept, not a philosophical one.\n\nAs near as I can make out, human rights derive from the expectations of the people who claim them. \n\nWhat do animals expect?\n\n\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 38

December 7, 2009

Thanks for writing this Adrian, I know what to ask for Christmas now;-)\n\nIn all seriousness your book sounds like an interesting read, well done for standing up to the AR extremists for all these years.
Avatar of: Michael Holloway

Michael Holloway

Posts: 55

December 7, 2009

"What rights do animals have in nature? What additional rights, if any, do they have in captivity? How do they acquire them? "\n\nThe animal rights movement dogmatically declares that any animal with "sentience" has rights equal to that of a human. They insist that their judgement of sentience is objective, when, of course, it isn't. They then equate their framing of "animal rights" with animal welfare, and that's been successful since the majority of the public isn't aware that the two are different. "Animal rights" is used synonomously with "animal welfare", even by most researchers, without any understanding of what the words mean.\n\nThere is, of course, no necessity to award animals rights in order to treat them humanely. This misunderstanding, along with the religious fervor of the true believers, has created terrorists who have been largely successful at interfering with and stopping biological and medical research for several decades.
Avatar of: johnny morales

johnny morales

Posts: 9

December 8, 2009

We humans generally believe in a perfect world we don't hurt the ones we love.\n\nWe don't live in a perfect world, not even close.\n\nTo take a standard that only exists in an ideal setting, and use it to define a standard in the real, extremely imperfect world shows just how clueless the person is, and how out of touch he/she must be with the world around him.\n\nLove is probably the #1 reason we hurt each other. Only someone who has never been in love could say "we don't hurt the ones we love."\n\nWe as humans may truly loathe hurting another person or creature no matter how small, but there is this thing called necessity, say like getting food to eat you need to kill something.\n\nIf proper steps are taken, animals in research can be spared the pain and suffering of that research, and just a little effort to accomodate a species social needs can end the sad evidence of animals gone insane due to social isolation while being used as research animals.\n\nThe notion that animals crave freedom and roaming priviliges is utter nonsense. \n\nAll it takes to disprove that is the rapidly growing #s of urban wildlife, who insist on sticking close to humans dispite some mighty efforts on our part to remind them of their wild nature and its inherent loathing of human society. \n\nThey stay because ample supplies of food and shelter can be found in human settings. \n\nSo eliminate the pain and suffering, meet each animals particular social needs, feed and shelter them properly and you could conceivably have lab subjects happier than those in the wild.\n\nOf course making scientists understand how easy this is requires changing a mindset they are forced to don in college that says animals don't feel emotions, don't have emotional needs like humans do, so there is no need to satisfy them. \n\nThat obstinate attitude due to a fear of false anthropomorphizing animals is as big an obstacle to doing the necessary research as PETA is.
Avatar of: David Hill

David Hill

Posts: 41

December 9, 2009

Do other people see color like we do? Do they really feel pain at all, or do they just act like they feel pain? Hopefully, we each have a "socialization" faculty to map our own subjective experience to the observed behavior of other people. I fear people who lack this faculty, and I would also fear those who can rationalize their cruel conduct toward other 'sentient' beings more if I were not protected to the extent that I am by law. Human groups often 'dehumanize' other human groups to justify their own conduct, so we should not be surprised that they can 'dehumanize' our close relatives that are placed in different species by systematists. The intellectual irony here lies in the fact that many researchers value their ability to legally mutilate close relatives of Homo sapiens, just because they know that they are closely related!
Avatar of: Michael Holloway

Michael Holloway

Posts: 55

December 10, 2009

"The intellectual irony here lies in the fact that many researchers value their ability to legally mutilate close relatives of Homo sapiens, just because they know that they are closely related!"\n\nIs it too cynical to believe that most scientists don't actually care about the quality and depth of science education for the general public? Look at this quote and the post it came from. Based on my own experience, I would say that most people don't have any better knowledge of what biomed research utilizing animals is about than David here. Dr. Morrison's experience related in his book and the above article, is that most scientists really don't care. Its only a minority that bother to push back against the ignorance of the animal rights movement, anti-evolution, pro-life alternative biology, global warming denial, over-population denial, etc. That's ironic because the power the general public has over our ability to do research is increasing. David has a vote in whether or not we get funding.

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