Tuesday, February 19, 2019

More thoughts on animals and even plants.....

In my previous post, I bemoaned the fate of laboratory animals, in my own experience mice, who suffer all sorts of manipulations, typically followed by execution, to please desires and satisfy objectives we humans stipulate (without the animals' consent).

Researchers are all fallible beings, but by and large we are as 'humane' as can be managed when we use animals to achieve a research goal.  These goals can be noble, such as the development of new medications.  Or they can seem important but in fact be rather trivial.  The level of import is a subjective judgment.

Animal research in universities, at least, must be approved by the institutions' research protections committees.  Even then, the members are only human, and one can question their judgment or criteria for what they approve.  But by and large the intent must be assumed to be worthy--assuming that any animal research is to be approved.

Opponents of any form of animal research have been quite vocal and, sometimes, have physically attacked laboratories where animal research is carried out.  It's an extreme attempt by opposing individuals to prevent research that the university allows, and this fact itself can cause the research committee to become more bureaucratic and perhaps to hunker down in self-protection.  But my prior post was about the overall ethics of animal research, not a plea for riot!

We could extend the ethical consideration beyond mammals to other species--even like, say, fruit flies--for which I think there are no such ethical-use review approvals needed.  I think you can just pull their legs off for sport.  And then there are plants.  Do we have any way to know they do not feel distress at what is done to them?  If they do, how can we learn about them without causing that?  Or is it that plants, openly arrayed to those who would eat their leaves and other parts, don't need to feel 'fear' or 'pain' and don't 'suffer' their predators?  It may not be so clear: some plants, at least, do send airborne molecular warning signals, but these need not be 'felt' in an integrated psychological sense.  Many plants require their fruits to be eaten so their seeds will disperse.  But who are we but a form of herbicide when we dispose of eaten apples' seeds or peach pits, or eat peas and corn, and so on?  If we clear a forest for our own uses of its wood, how many other living creatures besides the trees, are also done in by our actions?

To oppose all animal research is a difficult stance.  Many critics, including me, in fact eat meat on a regular basis.  We use insecticide.  We wear leather shoes and belts.  Some go fishing and hunting.  We may keep caged birds or guinea pigs.  I slap mosquitos to death that try to bite me.  The potential hypocrisy is obvious and has often been noted.  Sects, like the Jains, do their best not to kill animals.  But we all must eat and unless or until all food were to become entirely factory-synthesized, we generally must kill to eat. We are the product of evolution, and living individuals must sustain their lives on nutrients from other living (or, in some cases, formerly living) creatures.

In this sense it is hypocritical to castigate scientists for using other lives for their own gain, doing in one particular form (at least partially regulated) what we do daily in other forms. We know that in a profound sense, it's a cruel Darwinian world.

And war....?
As long as killing and maiming is our subject, and even if we exclude murder as unexcused killing, what about war, in which we glamorize those who intentionally and systematically kill as many other humans, of a particular type ('enemy') as they can--and they us, each side feeling virtuous in the process?   We honor veterans as heroes, but they are in fact paid killers.  The fact that others may wish to kill us so as to gain what we have makes this a very difficult issue if we were to hold that killing is simply wrong.  Do Quakers have the answer relative to humans as Jains do for other animals?  Even so, what about creatures they eat?

This and my previous post are just musings that I am making about the issue, about where we can or should draw lines, definitions, limits, and so on, relative to who can kill or torment, and for what reason.  Life is, after all, finite for us all.  But the issue of ending life is perhaps one that will never die.

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