On research and our own complicity

I'm sure many of you have already read Daniel Engbar's Slate.com 5-part series on animal research and the dog that started the push to change how study animals are treated. You can read it here.

In some ways, society's perception of vivisection is strikingly similar to its perception of agriculture. People feel it's a necessary evil, lab work and farming...or at least the way animals are treated as unfeeling, unthinking beings is. I've never liked "necessary" coupled with "evil" - it's a bit problematic trying to cogently and logically argue for something that is objectively and viscerally repugnant.

For me, the story of Clayton says it all, all that is wrong with vivisection and all that is wrong with how researchers seem capable of empathy yet do nothing to alleviate the suffering in front of them. We read about a monkey who is essentially tortured - a titanium rod is implanted into his brain, a coil is surgically attached to his eye, he spends years strapped in a metal chair and watches a computer screen. He lives in isolation. He is denied the right to exhibit natural behaviors in a normal environment.

Yet Engbar doesn't rally to the aid of Clayton and the other monkeys in the multi-year experiment. He doesn't champion their cause, their right to be free from rods in their brains and the tedium of doing something no monkey would willingly choose. It's as if a switch has gone off - he wants us to foray into bioethics, to look at how we perceive research, to ask tough questions, yet he doesn't answer the question of why Clayton is still suffering, of why he hasn't done anything to help the animals he used.

I'm not saying it's easy to live up to your morals and ethics. It's not. We are challenged every day in small and big ways to stay true to our beliefs. I'm also not saying we succeed every time. We're not perfect. This journey is full of surprises and hiccups and wondrous things.

But to look suffering in the face, to know that you are a part of that suffering, and to do nothing, well that speaks volumes.

I also read today in the LA Times how there is a new push to use government money for research involving farmed animals. The article is written in such a way as to cheapen the lives used and discarded. Between 66-72% of all research done on pigs and sheep, according to the AAVS, causes pain and distress.

Consider writing a letter to the editor. Encourage more government funding for alternatives to vivisection not more funds diverted to inflicting pain and suffering on sentient beings. Also, it's absolutely offensive that, while some dogs and cats are given a chance at permanent placement after non-invasive research, farmed animals are not - their ability to relate to people, the costs of caring for them, their ability to feel pain and joy, are not much different from a dog or a cat. Why the discrepancy in post-research treatment?

You can send letters here: letters@latimes.com Keep it to 150 words or fewer. Be respectful and polite. Include your full name, address and phone number for verification.