Remembering the Millions in the Global Lab

This coming Sunday, April 24th, will be World Day for Animals in Laboratories. It’s the first time since the Covid pandemic began that the anniversary can be properly observed with a collective event. The venue will be Cambridge, whose university was second only to the giant Crick Institute as a user of lab animals at the last national count in 2020. The 177,219 animals that Cambridge University used included 84 sheep, 16 pigs, and 41 non-human primates (nearly three times Oxford’s number). Those primates – rhesus macaques and marmosets – were (and others still are) being used in the study of human psychiatric conditions, including anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

wdail-2022

Here on the right are details of the Cambridge event.

The previous WDAIL event, in 2019, was at Oxford. I was among those who spoke on that occasion, and I post a transcript of my speech here – not because it was anything so great in itself, but because I tried to make it a concise summary of the moral and spiritual meaning of the World Day, and I don’t have anything much to add to it now. I began by quoting an estimate of the total of animals used annually across the world. That total, 118 million, referred to the year 2012. A more recent calculation, for the year 2015, suggests that the total of animals killed in laboratories may then have been 192.1 million. So the matter has not become any less urgent.

Speech given at Oxpens Meadow, Oxford, 27 April 2019:

We can’t know how many animals it is that we’re remembering today in all the world’s laboratories. A calculation made back in 2014 suggested 118 million. No doubt it’s far more now, and anyway that was only the vertebrates, the animals we choose to count: the mice, birds, fishes, cats, dogs, monkeys. It’s a big enough list, but many other sorts of animal are slaves to science, unregistered animals, species whose names we may hardly recognise. But there is this one thing that we do know about all of them, the thing they all do have in common: they were all born with the will to live and to flourish in their own ways, just as we were in ours.

It’s what that ancient Sanskrit teaching means when it says ‘Tat twam asi’, “Where you see life, that is you.” Well, that’s a spiritual way of putting the matter, no doubt, but it’s a plain fact also, and the great scientist Charles Darwin presented it as such in the mid-nineteenth century, when he showed that all life is one great multifarious will to flourish. In the mid-nineteenth century! Therefore the whole filthy modern history of vivisection, beginning as it did in Europe at about that same time, has been carried on in full awareness of that fact.

“All life is one”. That’s how it was stated by the man whose birthday on 24th April is commemorated by this World Day for Animals in Laboratories: Hugh Dowding. And I would like to say something about that most remarkable man: Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, the man who directed the RAF’s Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain in 1940, the man who is therefore to be credited with preventing the defeat and invasion of this country at that time.

Here was a man answerable for the fate of countless humans at a critical moment in human history, answerable in particular for the young fighter pilots who risked dreadful injury or death in the sky. And it was known that he did feel very great care and concern for the welfare of these men. After all, one of them was his own son.

So did he therefore come out of that war believing that there was a special sanctity in our human life, some special entitlement, that obliged all the other animals to serve our interests? No, on the contrary. He expressly objected to the use of animals in defence research, at Porton Down and at Harwell. Not just was it cruel and futile; he thought it actually promoted war. This is what he said:

failure to recognise our responsibilities towards the animal kingdom is the cause of many of the calamities which now beset the nations of the world. Nearly all of us have a deep-rooted wish for peace—peace on earth; but we shall never attain to true peace until we recognise the place of animals in the scheme of things and treat them accordingly.

He said that in the House of Lords, because he had been made Baron Dowding in 1943. And he used his time in the House of Lords again and again to present the case for animals: animals in circuses, in slaughterhouses, on farms, but especially animals in laboratories.

And probably the House of Lords has never before or since heard such plain-speaking on that subject. He began one debate by saying, The process of preparing this Motion has been a most painful one to me, because it has compelled me to read of many cases of revolting and sickening cruelty.” And he went on to describe some of those cases to their lordships: cats at the Royal Naval Laboratory made to breathe 100% oxygen until they convulsed and died; monkeys at the Lister Institute infected with rabies; the joining together of rats as Siamese twins. That last experiment was being carried out at Oxford University, where Dowding was astonished by what he called “the callous attitude of the people . . . and also the absolute uselessness of some of the experiments.”

Well, no doubt things have changed. Perhaps there are fewer ‘useless’ experiments nowadays, here at least. But it was never Dowding’s aim to make animal research more strictly useful. Here’s what he said about that:

I want to make clear at the outset my own personal position. It is this: that even should it be conclusively proved that human beings benefit directly from the suffering of animals, its infliction would nevertheless be unethical and wrong.

Yes, “Unethical and wrong”. And not because we’re animal-lovers. We may or may not love animals: so very much the better if we do, but it’s beside the point. What we know is that they are life as we are life, they value their part in life as we value ours, and they have as much right to it as we have to ours. That’s what it means to say all life is one. We know it to be a factual truth. Science itself has told us so. Well, let science practise what it teaches and give our fellow-creatures their own lives back!

Notes and references:

The 2019 WDAIL event at Oxford was described and pictured in this blog here: https://voiceforethicalresearchatoxford.wordpress.com/2019/05/03/wdail-2019/

The estimate of animals used in global science during 2015 was published in the journal Alternatives to Laboratory Animals in 2019, and can be viewed online here: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0261192919899853

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