Jewish World Review May 27, 2003 / 25 Iyar, 5763
Debra J. Saunders
The trivialization of compassion
Thirty years ago, bioethicist Peter Singer wrote for the New
York Review of Books a piece titled "Animal Liberation." With it, the
animal-rights movement was born.
Singer wrote in the Guardian last week about his struggle
against the prejudice of "species-ism," in calling for animal liberation he
wanted to say that "just as we needed to overcome prejudices against black
people, women and gays, so too we should strive to overcome our prejudices
against non-human animals."
A new Gallup Poll suggests that the animal rights movement is
gaining popularity: 25 percent of Americans polled agreed with the statement
that "animals deserve the exact same rights as people to be free from harm
and exploitation," while 35 percent strongly or somewhat support a ban on
medical research on laboratory animals.
OK. Just figure most of the "yes" respondents aren't the
smartest pigs on the farm. They apparently hadn't figured out that if
animals can claim the same rights as people, there would be no ranching and
no meat on the table. (A Time/CNN poll found that 4 percent of Americans
call themselves vegetarians, but 37 percent of those "vegetarians" had eaten
red meat within the previous 24 hours.)
Frankie Trull, president of the Foundation for Biomedical
Research, has a kinder take on the poll results. When people say that they
support equal rights for animals, she said, "they really mean that they want
animals to be treated humanely" -- not equally.
Fair enough. This is a country that boasts countless cat books
and legions of dog lovers. Most people don't believe in the gratuitous
mistreatment of animals, because it's cruel. It's that simple.
The PR-geniuses at the People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals, a radical animal rights organization in Norfolk, Va., have
harnessed Americans' laudable love of animals, however, to advance a
philosophy that is hazardous to human health: the equal treatment of
The allure is obvious -- there's a strong sense of purity in the
animal-rights movement. As PETA styles it, the battle is between good
people -- those who are sensitive to the pain of meek animals -- and bad
people -- those who would defend using animals for food and research. At
first blush, the animal lover seems more humane.
But listen more carefully, and the humanity fades. "When it
comes to feelings like hunger, pain and thirst," PETA top dog Ingrid Newkirk
told The New Yorker when asked about using animals for medical research, "a
rat is a pig is a dog is a boy."
It's odd how the PETA-philes defend animals, but oppose allowing
humans to eat meat like the omnivores we are. Then again, there is a strong
element of people-hating in the animal-rights' movement.
You can see it in Newkirk's rat-equals-boy statement. She also
told The New Yorker that the world would be a better place without people.
Singer, the bioethicist, is even more cold-blooded. He advocates
infanticide. "Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to
killing a person. Sometimes it is not wrong at all," Singer wrote. What's a
"defective" infant? Let the parent decide.
Singer later explained to Reason magazine how his philosophy
related to hemophiliac children or other disabled children who can be helped
with medical technology: "If the consequences of keeping the baby alive are
that you have to go to enormous trouble and spend hundreds of thou sands of
dollars to keep it alive, then that's a morally different choice from if all
you have to do is spend $20 a week, or whatever."
This is Singer's view of advanced morality: Thousands of human
lives aren't worth hundreds of thousands of lab animals' lives, but one sick
child isn't inherently worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Stanford University Medical Center neurobiologist William
Newsome was not happy to hear about the Gallup Poll answers. "If such a ban
on research with animals had been put in place, for example, in the year
1903, rather than 2003, everyone that any American knows with Type 1
diabetes would be dead now, every one that any American knows who has had
open-heart surgery would not have had open-heart surgery, that many kinds of
cancer, many common infections that are treated with antibiotics, would be
Indeed, Trull's group has been under such fire for supporting
research that saves human lives that it has launched a campaign to advertise
how animal research is saving animals' lives.
Why? Because when Trull's association conducted research, it
found that more people supported animal research to help animals than
supported animal research to help humans.
It has come to this.
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