Publications: Fact Sheets and More

The Ins and Outs of Cruelty Free Science

May 12, 2005 • Posted in Fact Sheets and More

Theodora Capaldo, EdD, NEAVS Boston, MA

2nd InterNICHE Conference
Alternatives in the Mainstream: Innovations in Life Science Education and Training
May 12-15, 2005, Oslo, Norway


The use and abuse of animals in science and science education is a reality of our world. The birth of vivisection as a full fledged, systematic and prevalent mode of inquiry began in earnest more than 150 years ago. For as long, caring, compassionate people including those with letters in science have been in opposition to it. For as long as vivisection has existed there have been those fighting for its endthose of us fighting for cruelty free science.

Among the first institutions to carry on animal research were Harvard University Medical School in the United States, the Pasteur Institute in France and La Specola in Florence Italy. It was at La Specola in 1863 that the first anti-vivisection protest in the world occurred. The cries of the animals used in horrific experiments could be heard in the streets and in the homes of the wealthy on the hill sides of Florence. The protest was an international event with prominent people from Italy, England, and the United States joining forces and succeeding in driving visiting German Professor Moritz Schiff out of Italy. The 783 signatures on the petition against Schiff included high ranking Florentine aristocrats, Robert Browning, John Ruskin and other notables.

In 1876, Francis Power Cobbe, a British citizen living in Florence and the key organizer of this protest, founded the first anti-vivisection society in the world, the Victoria Street Society, from which in 1898 emerged the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. Around this same time anti-vivisection societies began to emerge and get a strong footing in the United States. The two oldest were founded not from grassroots movements but from within society’s circles of the well heeled elite and intelligentsia. Those who abhorred vivisection included Dr. Henry J. Bigelow (1894), Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School. He supported the anti-vivisection movement and exclaimed “There will come a time when the world will look back to modern vivisection in the name of science as they now do at burning at the stake in the name of religion.”

Dr. Albert Leffengill (1917), a New York physician wrote “it is not through the torment of living creatures, nor through the limitless sacrifice of laboratory victims…that medical science will yet achieve for humanity its great boon -the prevention of diseases….Although the fight will be a long one, reform will come and will triumph like (1) agitation against slavery (2) torment of criminals (3) burning of heretics. Wherever there was vivisection, there were those working to end it. Claude Bernard is believed by many to be one of the most infamous of all vivisectors. His reputation was earned in part because of the breath of his studies in both time and topic, but also in no small part because of the language he used to describe his horrific experiments. Bernard wrote of the most awful suffering in poetic language, elevating it to a spiritual event. Bernard’s opposition was close to home. His own wife, Marie-Francoise was vehemently opposed to his use of animals. She objected strongly on moral grounds to her husband’s work and soon put an end to her inadvertent support of it through her dowry by a formal separationa rather modern ending for this 19th Century French Catholic coupleserving as testimony to the strength with which the first anti-vivisection battles were fought.

Unfortunately, Cobbe’s prediction at the time of the La Specola protest that vivisection would disappear within a decade never came to pass, but the movement she started lives on. While the frontiers to be confronted grow and become more technologically and scientifically sophisticated every day, there are still the many who work every day to move to cruelty free science.

At one time the poor, orphans, criminals, mentally ill, Jews, soldiers, African Americans and others have been used in experiments. NEAVS founding mission in 1895, for example, was “to expose and oppose… experiments upon living animals, lunatics, paupers, or criminals.” As recent as 1972, a forty year study that began in 1932 used 400 African American males to study syphilis. This Department of Health study left men  untreated, when treatment was available, allowing them to die horrific deaths in order to better the study the disease’s progress. The cruel and unscrupulous use of even our own species is not ancient history but rather a scar on the face of modern science.

Spurred on by the 1965 controversial Milgram experiments on obedience to authority which left human subjects with long lasting, debilitating depressions of psychotic proportions, a code of ethics was adopted forbidding harmful or dangerous experimentation on human beings, demanding full disclosure of the protocol and risks, requiring informed consent of any human subject and allowing any human to end their participation at any time. The code of ethics as it applies to homo sapiens is an essential ingredient for a cruelty free science.  The progress we have made in protecting human subjects was a goal that NEAVS founders could only see sometime in the future.

Today, all of us in this room are the future for the accomplishments of our own or our organization’s mission…the mission of cruelty free science. We are the future. The protections we have earned for people of different races, sexes, religions, IQs, socio-economic status and other differences are firmly in place. Science used these differences in order to label someone the other and then feel morally justified in committing atrocities against them in the name of science. We continue to use the difference of our species from all other species to justify the use and abuse of non human animals in science and science education. We now need to extend the protections earned for all human people to all people of different species.

Cruelty free science can only occur when everyone, all species, are protected by law and an ethical code of practice that excludes any living being from scientific exploitation.

But how to get there? In the midst of such an overwhelming reality with literally over a hundred million animals a year used in science in the U.S. alone (if you include the ones they don’t want us to count : mice and rats), how do we get our footing? How to we start to chip away at an enemy whose size and strength in numbers and dollars make all of us rather small, makes all of us Davids to this Goliath?

First, we must remember the adage: “be careful where you’re going because you are going to end up where you’re headed.” Sadly, the state of affairs, with one new atrocity after another on one species here, another there, keeps us often going in circles. Most of the time, most of us are responding to the latest outrage. The student who was thrown out of a program because they refused to participate in a dog lab. A research protocol at a local institution that broke both back legs of the dogs in the study so an investigator and share holder in the product being tested could get a paper published, fast. Cruelty charges filed as sick chimpanzees die, left unattended in the hands of unskilled security guards rather then under the watchful and knowledgeable eyes of trained veterinarians. Or whole new areas of abuse—new bioterroism studies. New labs. New varieties of genetically mutated mice. And so on and so on.

When frustrated or unfocused, some dogs will chase their tails. The frustration and bombardment of working for cruelty free science often leaves us with the human equivalent of chasing our tails. There is only one outcome when we chase our tails, when we allow the demanding details to keep us spinning our wheels, going in circles: we dig ourselves into a hole and get no where.

Rather, to make the hope of tomorrow’s science being truly cruelty free a reality, it is critical that every group, every individual who dreams this goal, decide, with clear, informed logic what they believe is the best way to get there. What campaigns? What priorities? What strategies will help create humane science and the world you want to live in?

This is quite a different set of questions then we feel forced to ask everyday: what can I do about this or that or those atrocities? As hard as it is, to ask the right questions you will need to put aside the daily deluge of information. The daily bad news of who is doing what to whom, where. Or who is not doing what they should being doing for whom, there.

Through the vision and goals that NEAVS has set, I will share just one example of what I mean. Let’s take a few minutes and look at our strategy. Our focused priorities. NEAVS two point plan for our contribution to bringing about cruelty free science for tomorrow.

For the sake of ease in remembering, the code name for our plan is simple. It is: the “INS and OUTS” of Cruelty Free Science.

FIRST: We must keep compassionate, bright students IN science. We will never see a world where anti-vivisectionists are heads of labs, writing and receiving grants to do cruelty free science if we don’t keep them IN science. As such, a first priority, without which there is literally no hope for the future, is to guarantee that tomorrow’s scientists will be and indeed will be led by those who refuse to hurt or kill animals. We need a way to guarantee that scientists with sharp, critical, creative minds and compassionate hearts will be asking the questions and deciding on how to find the answers. We will be able to then and only then trust that science will begin to do things in ways that everyone can live with. Goal number one: Keep compassionate students IN science.

SECOND: While the first strategy will help to create a new mind for science, the second key strategy is to create a new mindset by expanding the limited and self serving ethical boundaries that now surround scientific thought and behavior. We must get the first non-human species OUT of science. We must get chimpanzees our closest relatives out of the laboratories and thus break the species barrier that allows the unbridled use of all species except homo sapiens. We must get chimps OUT and in so doing create a new ethical foundation upon which to measure what we can and cannot do to any other living being.

Both of these strategies, keeping compassionate students IN and getting chimpanzees OUT, will help create not only a demand for better and more humane science, but they will also pave the way as to how to do it. Both of these strategies will fuel the need for, the creation of and the acceptance of alternatives to animals in science and science education. By mandating that where alternatives exist, they must be used, we round out the Ins and Outs with a very clear definition of how science will then be done.

Once you decide on a strategy, it reasons, urgency and repercussions, the real work will begin. Your focus will include formulating campaigns, mobilizing public support, effecting policy change and a host of other activist’s tools as a means to your end. But, what you must do is stay focused. Stay committed to your goals. Put one foot in front of the other and do not allow the agendas of others, nor the urgency of other seemingly equally important needs to deter you from your chosen path.

Like all good warriors you must have a pure heart, a clear vision and a strong, willful ability to execute your actions with the single minded focus that is always a formula for success.
As Goethe eloquently reminds us:

Whatever you can do,
or dream you can do,
you can.
Boldness has a genius,
and power to it.

Over 150 years ago, it all began. The vivisectors and those working to end their work began. The battles are different in form but the same in substance. No longer are dogs splayed open, un-anaesthetized so that one might watch the heart pump. Now, the dogs are forced to endure transplants of sophisticated technologies that some company is hoping will profit them greatly as a substitute for the living heart.

The issues are the same though the specifics have changed. Today, vivisectors talk about those whose seek cruelty free science as terrorists. Students who object to participating in their cruel exercises are ridiculed.

In truth, they fear us even if as a movement based on compassion there is in reality nothing to fear. Our ideals, our vision will not harm them, but it will, one day, succeed in ending the harm they do.

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