Thursday, November 1, 2007

Vivisection Connections

The view that torture and non-consenting potentially harmful human experimentation are violations of a person’s inalienable rights is based on the position that an individual’s interest in not being harmed always outweighs any potential benefit to others, no matter how many others might benefit, no matter the degree of benefit, or who the beneficiaries or who the research subjects might be.

This view isn’t universally shared.

The United States, long cherished by human rights proponents around the world as a country that abhorred torture, has officially reversed itself and now endorses cruel methods of interrogation and incarceration without trial or judicial oversight.

Many medical doctors, scientists, hospitals, and universities in the U.S. have engaged in deleterious experiments on humans without their knowledge or informed consent. The known examples include the Tuskegee syphilis studies (1932-1972), the Willowbrook hepatitis experiment on retarded children (1963-1966), the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital case (1963), the University of Cincinnati whole body radiation experiments (1960-1972), and many others from as recently as 1999, when all medical research with human subjects was suspended at the West Los Angeles and Sepulveda Veterans Administration Medical Facilities due to long standing oversight failures and failures to obtain informed consent.

You might think that, of all places, Israel would be the safest place for vulnerable patients, and that Jewish doctors and hospitals there would have a heightened sensitivity to using uninformed humans as experimental subjects, but in at least some instances this hasn’t been the case. In 2006, four doctors were arrested and two hospitals cited for their failure to safeguard patients when it was discovered that the doctors had performed “thousands” of experiments on unsuspecting elderly Jewish patients, some of who died as a result.

It is likely that in many if not most or even all of these examples, the doctors and the hospitals involved justified their experiments with the idea that more people might be helped than were certainly being harmed, or that science would benefit (whatever the heck that means.) And this, of course, is the self-same justification used for all medical research using animals. That is, those who experiment on animals and those who experiment on humans without their fully-informed consent are of a like mind.

The similarities between non-consenting human experimentation and animal experimentation are substantial. There must be something about having power over others that is attractive to a certain segment of the population. Dress it up as medical research or even law enforcement, but physical control of others is seductive to a certain personality type.

Martha Stephens writes:
It can hardly be insisted too strongly that the doctors who carried out the radiation tests, or administered the College where the tests took place, were by no means alienated or marginalized physicians. They were graduates of Harvard or other prestigious schools…. The team investigators published in received journals and often served their profession in national posts. Their views, feelings, predilections, and habits of mind with regard to their patients and their research subjects must be assumed to be the views and habits of many in their profession, in that time and this. The Treatment: The story of those who died in the Cincinnati radiation experiments. Duke University Press. 2002. (pp 101-102)
What astounds me is that in the face of the federal government lying about torturing people, black-ops secret prisons, rendition, secret human experimentation, cover-ups about laboratory accidents, spying on its citizens, and on and on, that, when the same people claim that animals in labs are being well-cared for and treated with respect, or that a cure (for the disease du jour) is just around the corner, and so many people believe them.

How many lies do people have to realize that they’ve been told before they wake up to the fact they are being lied to?

And this brings us to an obvious but mostly overlooked weakness in the vivisector’s position: that is, his inevitable forfeiture of all claim to have his word believed. It is hardly to be expected that a man who does not hesitate to vivisect for the sake of science will hesitate to lie about it afterwards to protect it from what he deems the ignorant sentimentality of the laity….

Here, then, is a pretty deadlock. Public support of vivisection is founded almost wholly on the assurances of the vivisectors that great public benefits may be expected from the practice. Not for a moment do I suggest that such a defense would be valid even if proved. But when the witnesses begin by alleging that in the cause of science all the customary ethical obligations (which include the obligation to tell the truth) are suspended, what weight can any reasonable person give to their testimony? I would rather swear fifty lies than take an animal which had licked my hand in good fellowship and torture it. If I did torture the dog, I should certainly not have the face to turn round and ask how any person there suspect an honorable man like myself of telling lies. Most sensible and humane people would, I hope, reply flatly that honorable men do not behave dishonorably, even to dogs. The murderer who, when asked by the chaplain whether he had any other crimes to confess, replied indignantly, “What do you take me for?” reminds us very strongly of the vivisectors who are so deeply hurt when their evidence is set aside as worthless.
The Doctor's Dilemma: Preface on Doctors (1909)
George Bernard Shaw

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