Sunday, August 31, 2008

In Solidarity: My Thoughts Against Vivisection

There's little doubt that a small (maybe tiny) victory was won last month when, after thousands of calls and emails from activists throughout the country, the Society of Gynecological Oncologists canceled their "Hands-On Pig Lab". Prior to canceling it, the program stated that procedures that will be performed were to include "ureteral dissection, pelvic and para-aortic lymphadenectomy, repair of simulated bowel and bladder injury, bowel resection, ureteral re-anasomosis, and liver resection." These procedures were deemed necessary and appropriate for a sales demonstration of electro-surgical tools.

I said it was possibly a "tiny victory" not only because it involved only a few animals out of millions, but also because though the Society buckled under vocal opposition and called it off, Covidien Electrosurgery, the company that devised the program and is behind many other vivisection experiments, has expressed no intention in ending their mutilation practices. But maybe calling it "little" is not fair--any victories for animals can be perceived as huge since the victories are so few and far between.

When I clicked on Covidien's website, the first thing found was the word "compassion" in big bold blue letters. Apparently, they pride themselves for having it.

Then I found their statement on laboratory animals:

...It is our commitment, policy and highest priority to treat laboratory animals humanely and with respect. Lab sessions are conducted only after the appropriate Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) approval is obtained. We require that all sponsored sessions are conducted in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act (Title 7 United States Code Section 2131 et. seq.) and the National Academy of Sciences Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.

Our position is supported by regulatory standards regarding the use of laboratory animals in the process of developing new drugs and medical devices...

Well. The Animal Welfare Act (which, incidentally, specifically excludes birds, rats, mice, and cold-blooded animals, as well as all farmed-animals raised for slaughter) is the only federal law that addresses extremely minimal standards of care for animals in research environments.Covidien is proud to comply with the Animal Welfare Act, but the Animal Welfare Act requires the consideration of using alternatives, and to my lay mind, surely there are alternatives to using a live animal to demonstrate a product.

More unfortunate than the fact that the legalities involved in vivisection are confusing and unclear, is the fact that it's not unusual. Not only is needless animal testing/mutilation common for Covidien, it's also common for countless other companies. In medical research, over 100 million animals are used every year in the good old US of A to study human disease and other ailments, often being inflicted with these diseases themselves, and thus causing them pain. In animal testing, animals are exposed to harmful products to test how humans may respond if exposed to the same ones. Obvious to even MY "lay mind" is that a human may respond slightly differently than a rodent, which is only one of the many reasons these types of tests can be totally for naught.

The point is, even when these egregious animal tests give us useful information, they are often unnecessary, since there may be viable and reliable alternatives to these tests--alternatives which hurt nobody except maybe the scientist or CEO who stubs his toe on his way to the bank. And what if they do give us useful information--are they moral? In a society where people are killing themselves due to unhealthy, animal-based diets, how can it be moral to torture animals to find cures for the diseases they're causing to themselves?

Not surprisingly, the American Anti-Vivisection Society was founded by a woman, Caroline Earle White, over 125 years ago--a woman who was also instrumental in both the anti-slavery and women's suffrage movements. Reading about White recently, I was reminded of a speech I heard at the Farm Sanctuary Hoe Down last month, where I was set to give a Veganism101 workshop the very next day. I slumped myself into a corner in the back of the room, down the road from hundreds of rescued farm animals--animals saved from factory farms, highly abusive situations, and yes, animal testing. I had no idea how I got to share the bill with some of my heroes and mentors, including Captain Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and Josh Hooten, founder of Herbivore. It was Hooten's speech that I remembered as I was reading about White. Clad in a "hot cop" uniform (he joked that he packed the wrong costume, this one was meant for his Vegas show next week), Josh gave useful advice on activism, including tips such as to not talk badly about your fellow activists, and the thing that rekindled a flame for me, to not be a single-issue activist.

Caroline Earle White must have come from the same line of thinking, because speaking up for slaves, speaking up for women, and speaking up for animals were obvious acts of solidarity, and a way to use her privilege to loan a voice to those who could not or would not be heard otherwise.

As I type this, my dog, Rose, is sleeping on the corner of the couch, all curled up like a fetus, or a bean. She's making little squeaky sounds every now and then, and I wonder, though I'll never know, what little dreams are going on in her pretty head. My heart sinks a little when I think that if a worker in the shelter Rose was brought to, after she was found chained and abandoned, did not fall in love with her and sneak her out to a loving home, she would not be here now. This particular shelter, along with many others, kills all pit bulls, and does not even give them the option of adoption. Rose was one of the lucky ones. As I type this, there are countless other animals of all species, including lots of dogs (especially beagles), being held captive for unfathomable testing and research, and they are relying on us to shed light on these cruel and unjust practices.

As reported by Indymedia UK, in solidarity with Sean Kirtley, who was "imprisoned by the state for supposedly organising legal demonstrations against Sequani's vivisection laboratories, activists will be making a stand for the animals with a march and rally against Sequani labs on September 6th in Ledbury, Herefordshire." I write this blog post today to take part, in my own way, in this "Carnival Against Vivisection," and so that you will do what I have done and continue to do--challenge yourself to learn a little more today about animal cruelty, and in particular, vivisection.

Just as Caroline Earle White did, find the connections between this and other forms social justice, and ask yourself how you can use what you've got to make it a tiny bit better, to help spread the word, and to refuse to be complacent.