The Moral Bankruptcy of the Animal Rights Movement

Last week PeTA released a new ad featuring sixteen-year-old Samia Najimy Finnerty. PeTA’s new ad troubles me both as a scientist and as a woman. More importantly, it highlights the absolute depths of depravity to which the animal rights movement is willing to sink in order to further its agenda

Figure 1: Samia Najimy Finnerty is the daughter of actress Kathy Najimy

As a scientist, I am interested in treating (and hopefully curing) diseases in children. In order to come up with treatments, it’s important to understand how the disease works. What organs does it impact? What’s happening at the cellular level? Which of these events can we modify or change in order to treat the disease?

One thing that I have learned in my career is that children are not little adults. Their bodies don’t respond the same way to adult treatments. An effective treatment in an adult may not be effective in a child, but jumping right to testing treatments in children without supporting evidence is entirely unethical. There is a huge lack of translation between adult and developing physiology. Because of our desire to have strong evidence before testing therapies in children, we frequently rely on animals models of childhood diseases to help us understand disease mechanisms and test new therapies. Ideally, a new therapy would be safe and effective in a couple of animal models of the disease before moving to trials in children.

I’m a staunch supporter of the responsible use of animals in research and I believe them to be critical in providing my physician colleagues new tools to treat disease. But, it’s important to me to use them responsibly to test specific questions, to limit the number used, and to limit their discomfort as much as possible. Unsurprisingly, there are groups that believe that animals should not be used in research (or consumed as food, or worn as clothing). Their fundamental argument is that the use of animals is morally wrong. They believe that animals have the same inherent rights as humans. But, why is an ad campaign about veganism related to the use of animals in science?

1) Because these are the same groups that attack scientists performing responsible animal research, and…

2) Arguments about the consumption of animals influence how the public regards animal experimentation. It frustrates the ever living fuck out of me to be asked to have moral debates with groups that have no scruples, yet will make the argument that scientists are amoral.

The purpose of this post is not to necessarily rehash the basics of the debate between scientists and animal rights extremists. There are groups that are highly skilled at providing accurate and truthful information about how scientists use animals in research (see Speaking of Research). My purpose is to express my frustration over how extreme animal rights groups are waging war. Sometimes it feels like, as scientists, we’re trying to obey the Geneva Convention and these other groups are spraying napalm. It doesn’t matter who gets hurt, as long as it benefits their central goal. These groups don’t necessarily believe that animals have the same rights as humans. No, these groups repeatedly demonstrate that the welfare of animals must be pursued even at the expense of the welfare of humans. This time, the furthering of their agenda is happening at the expense of women. Especially young women.

Last year PeTA released an ad depicting a woman in a neck brace (the video is here). Her eyes are blackened. She can barely walk. According to PeTA, it was meant to be be humorous, suggesting that men who go vegan are more vigorous lovers. But, the woman in the video looks like a victim of domestic violence and, at the end, she smiles as though she likes being battered. It’s a horrible message to send to men — that women enjoy violent, bruising, battering sex. That virility is akin to leaving your partner barely able to walk. I had hoped when I saw it that it would be PeTA’s only foray into such messaging.

If I had been right, we wouldn’t be here now. Would we?

PeTA’s new ad featuring Kathy Najimy’s teenage daughter tells us that, apparently, being a vegan means never having to consider the age of consent. Being a vegan makes statutory rape okay.

We should be encouraging young girls to be proud of their sexuality, but not convincing young girls to use their sexuality to further a political agenda. Interestingly, PeTA has tried to backpeddle with the release of this ad, suggesting that “go all the way” referred to the commitment to veganism, not to sex. Najimy quickly called bullshit, telling the media how PeTA originally asked her to pose with a bed and sheets for the campaign. What does it say about a group when a young girl has to defend herself against being exploited?

PeTA is telling the world that they are willing to sacrifice women’s bodies to achieve their goal. It’s a horrific juxtaposition. At the core of the animal rights extremist’s argument is the fact that animals cannot provide consent and are treated without regard to pain and suffering. At the core of these advertisements is the message that it doesn’t matter whether a woman can provide consent. You should take what you want, even if it results in her pain and suffering. PeTA hates the idea of animals being used as meat, yet they portray women as nothing more than that. Meat.

While I may be done debating, per se, I can’t ever be done pointing out the dubious tactics employed by animal rights extremists. The stakes are too great. Our cures and treatments and understanding of human disease depend far too heavily on allowing scientists to continue their work. The future of of biomedical research hinges on scientists speaking out against this type of hypocrisy each time we see it and, hopefully, in rallying the public to join us in our intolerance of the moral bankruptcy of this movement.

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