The Vivisection Controversy
FEw modern controversies excite more strong feeling than the question whether it is, or is not, right to make experiments on, living animals in the interests of medical science. To achieve a completely fair and balanced judgment on the problem it would be desirable to possess more medical knowledge than I—or, I fancy, many of the controversialists—can claim, but even, for a layman who has studied the problem and heard some of the arguments on both sides, certain facts emerge with clearness.
, Even bearing in mind the legal safeguards that are supposed to prevent cruelty and the undoubted inability, of animals to feel pain as keenly as human beings, it seems idle to deny that a very-great deal of suffering is inflicted. Human nature being what it is, a scientist hot on the track of a possible discovery, or anxious to observe an interesting phenomenon, is pretty sure sometimes to sacrifice the feelings of the object to the attainment of the end, especially if he has grown a trifle callous through much work on living material. The supervision given is not of so close a kind as to prevent this from happening with tolerable frequency : moreover, the infection of healthy animals with disease, which the law permits, is bound to cause suffering, quite apart from the question of operations.
Also, it appears useless to deny that experiments on living animals have occasionally rendered the greatest practical service to medical and veterinary science ; although I should rather like to believe they have not, but at present I cannot honestly do so. The literature of anti-vivisection, which is intended to prove that no useful results have ever been gained by experiments on living animals, is, as far as I have seen, weak and uncon- vincing. The theory put forward in an anti-vivisectionist pamphlet that the decrease in smallpox is due, not to vaccination, but to improved sanitation, seems to me puerile; as well suggest that children could be kept free from chickenpox and measles by more frequent washing ! Moreover, like present-day agnostics attacking Chris tianity, anti-vivisectionists usually seem about fifty years, behind the times and avoid tackling the best brains or the strongest arguments on the other side, carefully challeng- ing only the weaker of their antagonists. have never,. for example,' in an- anti-vivisectionist's pamphlet seen any attempt to deal with the remarkable cures of snake- bite apparently now effected by inoculation with a pre- paration from the blood of immunized horses.
But, even if we are obliged to grant that experiments on living animals have sometimes been productive of material benefits, the morality of such experiments is not necessarily eStablished. Could not results as good, or nearly as good, have been obtained by other means ?, Cannot material advantages be purchased at too high a price in the matter of spiritual wrongdoing towards the defenceless ?
Against certain kinds of experiments on living animals I do not think any reasonable objection can be made.
There is obviously no harm in an experiment on an animal which is completely under the influence of an anaesthetic and is killed before it recovers. To those who would argue that it is wrong to take life I would reply that no one can take life ; all that he can .do is to shift life out of this world into some other sphere where there is no reason. to suppose that it is any worse off. The painless shifting of an animal's life .is only wrong when mental or Other suffering is caused to its mate or young, and when the world loses more than it gains in the matter of beauty or of- interest. The use of a living animal is also probably justifiable when the discomfort inflicted upon it is very small, and the advantage to others very great. Calves could very likely be used for producing smallpox vaccine and horses for producing snake-bite remedy in a manner which would be defensible because of the very slight injury done to the animal.and the very great gain won for human beings.
- The usual method of obtaining vaccine, I believe, is to inoculate the calf along both sides with cowpox. Judging from photographs, the calves are too heavily inoculated and probably suffer a great deal of irritation, but if economy were sacrificed to humanity and more calves were used and inoculated in far fewer places it is probable there would be no appreciable degree of suffering at all, for cattle are very indifferent to minor skin and flesh wounds. Similarly, it is not unlikely that from him], siderate haste and over-economy, horses are given too large doses at a time of snake-venom during the process of immunization and are afterwards overbled to supply large quantities of serum from a minimum number of animals. No practice, however, need be finally judged by its abuse.
Subject to these reservations, however, I do not think that the justice of the anti-vivisectionist's main con- tention can be disputed. To sacrifice oneself in the interests of others is admirable ; to inflict suffering on one person for the direct and obvious good of another may be excusable under very special circumstances ; but to inflict suffering on a victim which cannot escape on the chance of some time conferring a benefit on somebody, is going altogether beyond the bonndsof what is legitimate, however ingeniously one may try to twist the arguments for the defence. Before we start adding to the sum total of animal suffering in the hope of diminishing our own, we ought at least first to make the fullest use of those aids to health which do not necessitate the infliction of addi- tional pain on other creatures.
At the present day we are in possession of a vast amount of knowledge as to the means by which the human body can be kept in a healthy state and highly resistant to, infection. Ninety per cent. of the disease in, the world is very likely preventable. It is not prevented simply -because we are too lazy or greedy to keep tho- roughly fit ourselves, and too thoughtless and selfish to extend to our less fortunate neighbours the knowledge of the laws of health and the means of, obeying them. - - • TAVISTOCK.