Most people support traditional uses of animals, i.e., the raising and slaughter of livestock for food and fiber, keeping animals in zoos, using animals in entertainment and sports, and keeping pets. But certainly not all people are equally supportive of each of these activities, and a vocal minority opposes most, and in some cases all, traditional use of animals. (See, for example, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.)
Public support for the use of animals in research is by no means universal, in part because of misconceptions about how animals are used in research, combined with an ignorance of the regulations that govern such use. While there are ethical arguments about the appropriateness of using animals, in research or otherwise (see Unit One), it is useful to be aware of the misconceptions, or “myths,” that are commonly used by activists who oppose animal use in research. (See the Foundation for Biomedical Research site that addresses this issue.)
Unfortunately, not all activism is legal and peaceful, and there are groups that promote (and carry out) destruction of property and “liberation” of animals in order to attempt change in public opinion. Even more unfortunate are recent efforts by some groups to publicly target and harass individuals engaged in research with animals. This raises the stakes on the personal commitment necessary in entering this profession. Americans for Medical Progress does an excellent job of tracking activist activities.
A fair question is, “Why should we invest time and energy in addressing the humane care and use of animals in research?” An excellent answer is provided in the summary of a 2002 Council on Undergraduate Research workshop, “Responsible Research with Animals”:
”Researchers who study nonhuman vertebrate animals have a responsibility to their students, peers, institution, governmental agencies, and society – and to the animals they study – to do their work humanely. Fulfilling this responsibility requires a commitment to learning about relevant principles, keeping current with policy changes, and thinking deeply about the moral and legal dimensions of the enterprise.” http://www.cur.org/conferences/cur2002summaries/R20.html
That commitment to learning provided the basis for the CUR workshop, and serves equally well for our purposes in these modules.
1. After looking at the FBR “fact vs. myth” site, which myth still seems relatively factual to you? Why? What additional information would change your mind?
2. Do you think threats of violence, such as destruction of a research laboratory, are an effective agent for social change?
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