At the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s September 2011 “public forum” on the use of monkeys in its research programs, someone challenged a vivisection critic’s comments with the rather worn question: Would you avail yourself to a treatment if it was developed through experiments on monkeys?
People who ask this question may imagine that an answer in the affirmative necessarily identifies someone as a hypocrite whose opinions should be discounted or dismissed altogether.
If so, then they paint themselves into a very tight and difficult corner.
The unspoken premise is that an ethical person, a genuinely moral person, would forgo any potential benefit that stemmed from some practice they purport to find immoral or unethical. (I think these are interchangeable terms in this context, and thus redundant, but I use them together here because of potential shades of distinction others might believe they imply.)
As reasonable as their challenge sounds – explaining why it continues to be trotted out – it immediately places a difficult burden on those who voice it.
To live true to their own challenge, to avoid being the hypocrite, the cad, who they apparently hope to cast someone else as, they must:
1. Never travel in the Southern U.S., in Rome, and probably quite a few other places. They must do research ahead of time to ascertain that the places they visit and they roads and bridges they will travel on were not built by slaves. Otherwise, they are hypocrites or else really aren’t opposed to slavery.
2. Always query any surgeon who might treat them or a loved one as to whether or not they used or ever referred to Eduard Pernkopf’s infamous Topographische Anatomie des Menschen (Atlas of Topographical and Applied Human Anatomy), and if the potential surgeon did consult the Atlas, then they must find a new doctor. Considered the pinnacle of anatomical atlases and consulted frequently by surgeons prior to a difficult operation, the subjects used in Pernkopf are now believed likely to have been Jews and others killed by the Nazis. If he who makes a challenge about the use of an animal-tested medicine does not make such inquiries ahead of time and turn down treatment if such is the case, then, by his or her own measure, he or she is a hypocrite or else isn't opposed to what was done during the Holocaust.
3. They must never receive, and must never allow their wives (if they are a married man) or daughters to receive gynecological care. The father of gynecology was the American doctor, J. Marion Sims. The Sims position, the Sims speculum, and other similarly named gynecological instruments were devised by him. He developed the first successful treatment for vesicovaginal fistula. He conducted repeated experimental surgeries on slave women without benefit of anesthesia, even after he was using it when treating white women. Allowing their wives or daughters to receive gynecological care must mean that people who believe that antivivisectionists who use animal-tested products are hypocrites must themselves be either hypocrites or else aren’t opposed to experimenting on non-consenting slave women.
There are other examples of the ethical dilemmas facing those who ask whether or not someone opposed to the use of animals in scientific research should avail themselves to a treatment if it was developed through experiments on monkeys. But the problem with such a challenge is clear.
A rational and moral person could oppose slavery and still drive on roads first built by slaves, could oppose non-consenting human experimentation and still undergo surgery conducted by someone who had studied Pernkopf’s Atlas, could visit a gynecologist and still oppose experiments on slaves and oppose slavery, and could take a medicine that had been tested on animals and still be morally opposed to the use of animals in biomedical research.
But the person who makes the challenge could not visit the South, could not fail to quiz a surgeon about their education, could visit a gynecologist, or do myriad other things without being a hypocrite or else a complete moral failure.