Originally published in the Sacramento Bee Mar. 14, 2011.
Animal tests are today's Tuskegee experiments
by Justin Goodman
An experimenter at the University of California-Los Angeles who addicts monkeys to methamphetamines, kills them and dissects their brains recently defended the practice of tormenting animals in laboratories by saying that it was a "fact of science."
Animal experimentation is indeed a "fact" in the sense that it takes place, but its mere existence is not a sound ethical defense, with all its accompanying violence and death. This sort of argument implies that the way we conduct science - and the way we treat animals - is constant, unchangeable and not up for debate. Fortunately, this is not how science (or society) actually works.
Other "facts of science" that history ultimately deemed atrocities include experiments on unconsenting humans - among them, the poor, prisoners, the developmentally disabled, Jews and blacks. J. Marion Sims, the so-called "father of gynecology," developed life-saving treatments for difficult pregnancies that are still in use today by conducting surgeries on the genitalia of unanesthetized female slaves he "rented" from local owners.
A century later, one government researcher defended his involvement in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments by stating that because the people being deprived of medical treatment were poor black sharecroppers, "The men's status did not warrant ethical debate. They were subjects, not patients; clinical materials, not sick people." Back then, using black men and women against their will in experiments was as much a "fact of science" as slavery and racial segregation were a "fact of life." Both then and now this abhorrent cruelty and racism was indefensible.