For about an hour today, I spoke with Lee Jones while he was handing out Pro-Test leaflets on Cornmarket Street. For those outside Oxford – or those who have spent the last few months in a local cave, with fingers in their ears – Pro-Test is a group which promotes the use of animal testing in medical research, in opposition to groups like SPEAK and the Animal Liberation Front who have been agitating against the animal lab that is under construction near Rhodes House. Along with legitimate protests and demonstrations, some anti-testing groups have threatened construction workers and members of the university, as part of their campaign to stop the lab from being built. Similar protests in Cambridge led to the cancellation of an animal lab project there.
I do believe that animals are morally considerable, to a certain extent. That’s part of why I refrain from eating them. I don’t think there’s a rational basis for a harsh divide between humans and other animals. That said, there is a balance of competing moral claims. We need new antibiotics to deal with resistant bacteria. We need vaccines for HIV/AIDS and malaria. Oxford is the only organization in the world presently conducting second stage clinical trials on vaccines both both malaria and HIV/AIDS, as well as new treatments for tuberculosis. We need new surgical procedures and drugs to limit the harm caused to people around the world by infectious disease: a far more lethal phenomenon than war and terrorism put together. Developing all of these things fundamentally requires limited usage of animal testing. No computer models are adequate for dealing with the sophistication of animal biochemistry; likewise, it is irresponsible to test drugs and procedures on human beings, even volunteers, before basic toxological and side effect screenings have been completed.
Protections for laboratory animals in the UK are already extremely strong: far, far more robust than sanitary and ethical guidelines in the factory farming industry (which should be the real target for those concerned about animal cruelty). While alternatives to animal testing should be investigated, and employed where appropriate, the moral imperative to lessen the suffering caused by disease requires the continued development and use of facilities such as that under construction at Oxford.
Those interested in hearing Pro-Tests side of the story should consider attending an open public meeting on Monday the 22nd. It is happening from 7:00 to 9:00pm at the Oxford town hall and will include presentations from scientists, a Member of Parliament, and members of Pro-Test. They are also holding a demonstration on Saturday, June 3rd – starting at 11:45am on Parks Road.