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Charles Darwin and the Vivisection Outrage

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Author’s Note: The following originally appeared at The Dispersal of Darwin.

"Darwin" by Nathaniel Gold

     "Darwin" by Nathaniel Gold

According to the British Medical Journal the alleged crime resembled a crucifixion. The victims had been strapped to boards, backs down, and with their legs cinched outwards. In the stifling August heat their heavy breathing was made only more intense by a suffocating fear. The accused was described as wearing a white apron “that was afterwards covered with blood” as he approached one of the individuals he had selected for his experiment. Their mouth was tied shut, but when the blade entered the thin, pink flesh of his inner thigh the cries of agony were simply too much to bear.

Experienced medical men in attendance, including some of the nineteenth century’s top surgeons, were outraged and demanded that the animal’s torture cease. Thomas Joliffe Tufnell, President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, denounced the demonstration as a “cruel proceeding” and stormed to the operating table to cut the dog loose.

Other physiologists objected to the interruption with one insisting, “That dog is insensible; he is not suffering anything.”

But Tufnell held firm, “The dog is struggling hard to get free. I am a sportsman as well as a surgeon, and I will never see a dog bullied.” However, a vote was taken among the assembled members of the British Medical Association and the demonstration was allowed to continue.

A tube was then forced into the conscious animal’s femoral artery, the white hair of his belly stained red as the arterial pressure caused blood to spurt from the incision. Into the tube the accused injected pure alcohol. The result, continued the Journal, “was an immediate struggle, which almost immediately subsided. The animal became dead drunk.”

“Now, you see he’s insensible,” a physician snidely remarked to Tufnell.

“Yes,” Tufnell replied, “and he’ll never be sensible again, for he will die.”

Spattered with gore from the comatose animal, the accused, Dr. Eugene Magnan of Paris, insisted he would be quite well by that evening. The dog soon died. Magnan then turned to the second animal, opening the same artery as before but injecting absinthe into the wound. According to witnesses:

The animal struggled much, cried as far as it was able, showed other symptoms of great suffering, and ultimately–not long after the injection–had a fit of epilepsy.

This had been the point of Magnan’s August 13, 1874 demonstration: the physiological effects of alcohol and absinthe on the animal nervous system. It had been made possible by four physicians based in Norwich, England, all of whom now stood trial for actions taken that did “unlawfully illtreat, abuse, and torture certain animals.” Dr. Eugene Magnan, also listed as a defendant, was not present in the courtroom since he had fled the country back to France. Because it could not be proven that the four English physicians had been actively involved in the demonstration the charges were ultimately dismissed, though the court ruled that the case against them was proper and required them to pay all legal costs. However, in the court of public opinion they were guilty as charged.

Animal experimentation, or vivisection as it was known in the nineteenth century, had already been practiced for centuries (William Harvey’s famous dissections of deer in the 1620s had revealed the heart’s role in the circulatory system) but with the rise of scientific medicine more animal subjects were being “put to the blade” in the name of science. The physician George Hoggan described his own experience taking part in some of these dissections with dogs:

Hundreds of times I have seen when an animal writhed in pain, and thereby deranged the tissues, during a deliberate dissection; instead of being soothed, it would receive a slap and an angry order to be quiet and behave itself. . . Even when roughly grasped and thrown on the torture-trough, a low, complaining whine at such treatment would be all the protest made, and they would continue to lick the hand which bound them till their mouths were fixed in the gag.

Darwin was well aware that these kinds of experiments took place, even using a similar example in his 1871 book The Descent of Man:

[E]veryone has heard of the dog suffering under vivisection who licked the hand of the operator; this man, unless he had a heart of stone, must have felt remorse to the last hour of his life.

As one of the most celebrated biologists in England, Darwin was both a supporter of experimental physiology and was passionate about protecting animals from cruelty. As a local magistrate he regularly came across cases of cruelty to farm animals and, according to his biographer Janet Browne, “was inexorable in imposing fines and punishment.” In 1853 he waged a “private vendetta” against a Mr. Ainslie for cruelty to his carthorses, threatening to “have him up before a magistrate & his ploughman also.” According to his son, Francis Darwin, the man who many saw as advocating “might is right” was as disgusted by animal cruelty as he was by the human cruelty he experienced in slave holding societies:

The remembrance of screams, or other sounds heard in Brazil, when he was powerless to interfere with what he believed to be the torture of a slave, haunted him for years, especially at night. In smaller matters, where he could interfere, he did so vigorously. He returned one day from his walk pale and faint from having seen a horse ill-used, and from the agitation of violently remonstrating with the man. On another occasion he saw a horse-breaker teaching his son to ride, the little boy was frightened and the man was rough; my father stopped, and jumping out of the carriage reproved the man in no measured terms.

This sympathy extended to animals used in experimentation, as Darwin wrote to the Oxford zoologist Ray Lankester in 1871:

You ask about my opinion on vivisection. I quite agree that it is justifiable for real investigations on physiology; but not for mere damnable and detestable curiosity. It is a subject which makes me sick with horror, so I will not say another word about it, else I shall not sleep to-night.

However, Darwin did not take his own advice and, after the media uproar following Magnan’s demonstration and the ensuing court case, the notoriously reclusive naturalist spearheaded a campaign to regulate how vivisection was conducted in England.

The year 1875 was a milestone for British animal rights activism. Building off the popular outrage over Magnan, the author, feminist, and animal rights campaigner Frances Power Cobbe formed the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection (and, later, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, which continues to this day). With the assistance of sympathetic members of Parliament, Cobbe drafted a bill that would require regular inspections of physiological labs engaged in vivisection. Darwin heard of this activity through his daughter, Henrietta Litchfield, who was passionate about animal rights and had sent her father Cobbe’s petition to sign. Her letter had Darwin contemplating the issue “for some hours” and he delivered a considered and thoughtful response:

I conclude, if (as is likely) some experiments have been tried too often, or anesthetics have not been used when they could have been, the cure must be in the improvement of humanitarian feelings. Under this point of view I have rejoiced at the present agitation.

However, despite his conflicts over vivisection, Darwin’s opinion of the bill was that it would do little to protect animals and, at the same time, would result in a chilling effect on science:

[I]f such laws are passed, the result will assuredly be that physiology, which has been until within the last few years at a standstill in England, will languish or quite cease. . . I cannot at present see my way to sign any petition, without hearing what physiologists thought would be its effect, and then judging for myself.

Four months later Darwin, who rarely took any active role in politics, was in the midst of a political campaign to introduce his own bill to Parliament. As he wrote to his close friend Joseph Hooker, then-President of the Royal Society, “I worked all the time in London on the vivisection question . . . The object is to protect animals, and at the same time not to injure Physiology,” and he had already enlisted the support of “some half-dozen eminent scientific men.”

While protecting the scientific enterprise was an important aspect of what became known as the Playfair bill (after Dr. Lyon Playfair, the liberal member of Parliament who introduced the legislation), Darwin’s personal background advocating against animal cruelty and the fact that his son-in-law, Robert Litchfield, was the one who helped Darwin write the bill, it suggests that animal rights was just as much a part of Darwin’s concern. In fact, the Playfair bill went beyond Cobbe’s in the protection of animals by including the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) guidelines that required anesthetic in all experiments, including for teaching purposes. As historian David Allen Feller wrote in 2009 in his account of the 1875 antivivisection controversy:

Under the BAAS guidelines, not only was anesthesia required in experiments whenever possible, but an entire class of experiments, those conducted for mere demonstration purposes without any new scientific discovery in mind, were outlawed. This was not so under the [Cobbe] bill, which did not distinguish between classroom and purely scientific experiments. Inclusion of this provision of the BAAS guidelines was clearly intended by Darwin from the outset of his work on the bill. Darwin wrote to Burdon Sanderson and Huxley that he thought the BAAS guidelines would be the best compromise, and Darwin specifically noted the inclusion of a ban on the use of live animals for the purpose of demonstrative teaching.

Darwin is widely known for never taking part in any public discussions or debates on his theory of natural selection (leaving that to trusted friends such as Thomas Henry Huxley). His poor health and hatred of travel kept him at his estate in the countryside throughout most of his life. And yet, on the question of vivisection, Darwin not only traveled to London to help draft the Playfair bill, he returned when asked to testify by the Royal Commission when investigating the use of vivisection. During the questioning Darwin again insisted that experimentation on animals was important for the development of medical science. However, on the question of experiments carried out without anesthetic or ones inflicting pain unnecessarily, Darwin stated unequivocally that, “It deserves detestation and abhorrence.”

Those words became the basis upon which the Royal Commission recommended that vivisection be regulated. After quoting Darwin’s view in their report to the Queen, they went on to state:

This principle is accepted generally by the very highly educated men whose lives are devoted either to scientific investigation and education, or to the mitigation or the removal of the sufferings of their fellow creatures.

The following year The Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876 was passed by Parliament and signed into law.

Charles Darwin’s advocacy for animal rights has more than mere historical interest. Today it is commonplace for scientists, particularly those who work with animal models in their research, to oppose animal rights legislation as being fundamentally anti-science. However, as Darwin himself has demonstrated, it is possible (even necessary) for the pro-science position to be concerned with animal welfare. Being pro-science does not mean being pro-cruelty.

There are currently some very good laws in place throughout England, Europe, and the United States that protect animals from unnecessary suffering in the pursuit of medical knowledge. However, the differences between countries continue to raise concerns about how much suffering should be permitted in animal research. Last year saw the use of chimpanzees in medical experimentation banned throughout the European Union. At the same time, there are nearly 1,000 chimps used by federal researchers in the United States for vaccine, hepatitis C, and HIV research. Year after year legislation to ban the practice fails to gain support in Congress.

Ironically enough, many of the worst abusers of animals in the nineteenth century came from continental Europe, a region that is now the leader in animal rights legislation. If there is any justice in Eugene Magnan escaping prosecution for his actions 135 years ago, it may be that public outrage over his “demonstration” sparked a movement that, today, would provide him with no safe haven. There is little doubt that animal experimentation has resulted in some necessary medical breakthroughs. But, as in the nineteenth century controversy, Darwin’s own struggle with this research is something we would do well to remember.


“Prosecution At Norwich. Experiments On Animals,” The British Medical Journal Vol. 2, No. 728 (Dec. 12, 1874), pp. 751-754.

Browne, J. (2002). Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Darwin, C. (1871). The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. New York: D. Appleton & Co.

Feller, D. (2009). Dog fight: Darwin as animal advocate in the antivivisection controversy of 1875 Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 40 (4), 265-271 DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2009.09.004

Eric Michael Johnson About the Author: Eric Michael Johnson has a Master's degree in Evolutionary Anthropology focusing on great ape behavioral ecology. He is currently a doctoral student in the history of science at University of British Columbia looking at the interplay between evolutionary biology and politics.

Follow his work on Facebook and Google+. Follow on Twitter @primatediaries.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Allyson J. Bennett 2:10 pm 10/6/2011

    Your comment: “Today it is commonplace for scientists, particularly those who work with animal models in their research, to oppose animal rights legislation as being fundamentally anti-science. However, as Darwin himself has demonstrated, it is possible (even necessary) for the pro-science position to be concerned with animal welfare. Being pro-science does not mean being pro-cruelty.”

    implies that you believe scientists opposed to particular animal rights legislation are not concerned and active in supporting animal welfare. That is not the case. Not only are scientists concerned with animal welfare and actively contributing to continued improvements, but they also support the 3Rs and extensive regulations to protect the welfare of laboratory animals.

    The issue of chimpanzees in research in the US is one that merits thoughtful dialogue based in fact. Knowledge of current conditions- rather than those existing decades ago– is important, as is acknowledgment that those actively working in animal research are engaged and concerned with a wide range of complex and difficult considerations related to this issue. We’ve written about this at Speaking of Research.

    There is also a engaged dialogue on the recent Scientific American editorial on this subject. The comments illustrate some of the complexity of this issue and argue against the simple assertion that being pro-animal welfare means pro-animal rights.

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  2. 2. darioringach 4:25 pm 10/6/2011

    Darwin strongly supported the responsible use of animals in scientific research while protecting their welfare.

    Despite the intended mis-characterization, the same is true of today’s scientists.

    To those attempting to stop animal research, Darwin addressed in his letter to the London Times in no uncertain terms:

    “I know that physiology cannot possible progress except by means of experiments on living animals, and I feel the deepest conviction that he who retards the progress of physiology commits a crime against mankind”

    Indeed, stopping the work would have been a crime against humanity.

    This was true then; it is true today.

    Let us be clear.

    No scientist derives any pleasure in harming an animal. No scientist performs an experiment without a clear goal as to how it will advance medical knowledge and science. No scientists can perform an experiment unless approved by an independent panel of experts that agrees on the value of the goal. No scientist is against improvements in animal welfare. No scientist is against the development of alternatives (if fact, it is us who develop them). No scientist will use an animal if the same information can be obtained non-invasively in human volunteers.

    You further write:

    “Today it is commonplace for scientists, particularly those who work with animal models in their research, to oppose animal rights legislation as being fundamentally anti-science.”

    You are confusing animal welfare with animal rights. Those that oppose the notion of “animal rights” do it because they believe such “rights” imply obligations and responsibilities within a moral community of equals. Non-human animals cannot participate in such a moral community. They cannot have rights.

    Nevertheless, we all recognize animals are worth of our moral consideration. We have to take their interests into consideration when making decisions. Yet, most of us believe that the moral status of all animals is not equal to that of humans. We do not believe we owe the same level of moral consideration to a human being and a mouse. Animal rights activists believe this to be the case. This is the crux of the disagreement.

    But you are right that animal rights groups are “anti-science”. Why? Because against all evidence they deny the benefits of animal research and imply that methods already exist to carry the same work done with animals today. This is false. So why are they doing this? I think they do it because they have failed to make a case for their moral stance — the fact that we should not experiment on animals because they have rights (of course we should not be eating them either). As this argument does not seem to have much traction with the public, they also attempt to suggest the science is fraudulent and that everyone involved in animal research do so for the sole purpose of financial gain. These are outrageous, blatant lies.

    Make no mistake. The spirit of Darwin’s feelings on the topic lives within the academic community, not with animal rights activists.

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  3. 3. allan_g 5:18 pm 10/6/2011

    It seems like a broad -brushed statement to post that all scientists are noble . And it is incorrect to discount the suffering of “non- humans” as not worthy of consideration simply because they are not part of a specific “community”.

    Scientists do not all fit into the same mold – like some kind of honorable conglomerate. The existence of Josef Mengele, David E. Cameron’s experiments or my high school biology teacher (that delighted in stirring frog’s brains while still alive and giggling at a trash can full of dead cats) leads me to consider that some scientists could actually be “animals” using their authority and experitise to inflict suffering on test subjects for profit .

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  4. 4. darioringach 5:52 pm 10/6/2011


    True, not all scientists are noble… but I think most are. So, I should have stated “No scientist I know…” above for correctness.

    Those that through intention or negligence show disregard for the regulations and the welfare of animals should not be involved in animal research at all.

    Nobody is saying that non-humans are not worthy of moral consideration. Of course they are! It is their possession of rights that I was discussing in relation to their inability to participate as equal members in a moral community.

    As for the suggestion that scientists purposely inflict harm on animals with the only goal of profiting.

    I think you are wrong. Here, it would help to notice that most of them could easily find jobs in private biomedical companies doing other jobs that would pay much more than what they earn in academia.

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  5. 5. allan_g 8:55 pm 10/6/2011

    darioringach , I tried to choose my words carefully and didn’t mean to imply that all animal research scientists were profit hungry torturers – that is your inference . Would you agree that perhaps some are ?

    Just because non-humans are percieved as not understanding the concept or able to participate in a “moral community” doesn’t give scientists the “right” to inflict pain and kill – whatever the pretext .

    Not all profit can be measured in dollars, for with experimentation (some completely unnecessary) government grants and prestige can be obtained .

    Please note, I’m not an extremist – I only responded because your remarks sounded to the far end of the spectrum .

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  6. 6. EricMJohnson 11:27 pm 10/6/2011

    Thanks for your comments. It is incorrect to say that all scientists are opposed to animal welfare; that’s not what I wrote and that’s not what I believe. I have filled out enough IACUC forms, in both my neuroscience laboratory work as an undergraduate and my graduate work with captive primates, to know how seriously scientists take this issue. However, as the recent meeting to discuss the continued relevance of invasive chimpanzee research has shown, it is primarily the scientists who engage in this work that oppose any change to the existing policy. This is despite the fact that every country in the world, other than the United States and Gabon, have banned the practice. (Nature News has a good review of the issue here:

    Jane Goodall has been especially outspoken on this issue and you can read additional facts at her Institute’s website:

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  7. 7. Janet D. Stemwedel 11:43 pm 10/6/2011

    EricMJohnson wrote:

    However, as the recent meeting to discuss the continued relevance of invasive chimpanzee research has shown, it is primarily the scientists who engage in this work that oppose any change to the existing policy. This is despite the fact that every country in the world, other than the United States and Gabon, have banned the practice.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean that scientists are acting out of stubbornness or even inertia. Rather, it is possible that the scientists who do such research with chimpanzees are motivated by the expected benefits of this research that could not be obtained by work with other animal (or non-animal) models.

    Surely there is a reasonable discussion to be had about what those benefits might be, which members of our society are most (and least) likely to enjoy those benefits, and whether we deem the ethical costs worthwhile. But I think it would be a mistake to assume that the supporters of the existing policies have not thought long and hard about the ethical trade-offs involved.

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  8. 8. darioringach 1:23 am 10/7/2011


    You wrote:

    “As one of the most celebrated biologists in England, Darwin was both a supporter of experimental physiology and was passionate about protecting animals from cruelty.”

    “However, as Darwin himself has demonstrated, it is possible (even necessary) for the pro-science position to be concerned with animal welfare.”

To me these read as if you are implying that today’s scientists are not concerned with animal welfare or about protecting animals from cruelty. Are you not? If not, whose position are you trying to contrast against Darwin’s? Who are those that hold the “pro-science position”? Animal rights activists? Scientists?


    “Would you agree that perhaps some are?”

    Yes, I would agree that scientists are also human beings and can fall prey to the same moral weaknesses as the rest of the population. I’d like to believe the incidence of such behavior is less than average, but I admit I have no hard data to justify this position.


“Just because non-humans are percieved as not understanding the concept or able to participate in a “moral community” doesn’t give scientists the “right” to inflict pain and kill – whatever the pretext .”


In my view, our moral concern for different living beings must be grounded on our understanding of their minds and interests. Certainly, our understanding of animal cognition evolves over time and so do our moral boundaries. 

From what we know today, the mind of an ant is not the same as that of a mouse, a monkey, or a human. This does not give anyone the “right” to do whatever they want with non-human animals but, when confronted with our ability to address human disease and in suffering using animals in research one is led into a moral dilemma.

It is precisely the inability of animal right activists to recognize the fact that we face such a moral dilemma that prevents any productive debate. To animal activists the animals have a “right” to live their lives free from human intrusion. End of story. For most biomedical researchers, the responsible use of animals in research represents an unfortunate, but morally permissible, road to the development of new therapies and cures when the data they seek cannot be obtained in humans via non-invasive methods.

 We think it is up to society, as a whole, to determine which types of experimentation we consider morally permissible and with for what potential benefits. Such a discussion cannot even begin with those that hold an animal rights position.

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  9. 9. Blueskyscience 5:53 am 10/7/2011

    Very well said Dario and Allyson.

    I’ll make your point more succinctly.

    The evidence shows clearly that Charles Darwin believed that animal research was vital to advancing physiology and medicine, and that he supported animal research. He also believed that it was important to ensure the welfare of animals being used in research. That is an entirely coherent position, and one shared by the overwhelming majority of medical researchers (both those who use animals in their research and those who do not) today.

    To cast Darwin as a proto-animal rights activist is pretty dishonest, animal welfare and animal rights are not the same thing.

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  10. 10. EricMJohnson 9:18 am 10/7/2011

    @Blueskyscience: You are correct that the concept of animal rights was not the same in the nineteenth century as it is today. It needs to be understood in context. In Darwin’s era the issue of animal rights was founded on the English jurist and philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s criteria (see his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation) that stated when considering whether animals should have rights under law that would protect them from cruelty “the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”

    Based on this criteria, according to David Allen Feller’s study cited above:

    “Animal rights issues concerned more than mere science for Darwin, however, and where debates over other scientific issues failed to inspire Darwin to become publicly active, he readily joined the battle over vivisection, helping to draft legislation which, in many ways, was more protective of animal rights than even the bills proposed by his friend and anti-vivisectionist, Frances Power Cobbe.”

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  11. 11. jgoodman 10:41 am 10/7/2011

    @Janet: I gave testimony on behalf of PETA at the recent IOM meeting about experimentation on chimpanzees. As I noted in a recent column about the event (, even the experimenters who were invited to the meeting to give presentations about their work and defend the practice admitted — either voluntarily or under questioning from the panel — that experimenting on chimpanzees is not necessary to find cures for human ailments. Yet, they took the position of opposing it anyway. Their opposition is, thus, motivated by self-interest.

    @Dario-You state that “our understanding of animal cognition evolves over time and so do our moral boundaries.” I am not sure who you are referring to by saying “our” when you discuss moral boundaries but certainly it isn’t animal experimenters.

    Existing laws that animal experimenters already claim are too restrictive allow any animal to be burned, shocked, poisoned, isolated, shot with machine guns, starved, paralyzed, cut open and addicted to drugs as well as have their brains damaged. And all of these things are done to animals today. What happens to animals in laboratories would be considered criminal cruelty to animals if it occurred elsewhere. No experiment — no matter how painful or trivial — is prohibited, and painkillers are not required. Even when viable alternatives to animals are available, the law does not require that these alternatives be used, and very often they aren’t precisely because of inertia and self-interest. If you want examples, I can provide a laundry list.

    People who support and conduct animal experimentation — not unlike the people who conducted the unethical experiments mentioned above — are quick to acknowledge the similarities between species in order to justify the use of animals as proxies for humans, but they are even quicker to minimize and disregard the obvious moral implications because it is not in their personal, political or financial interests to do so. Self-reflection and scientific inquiry can lead to conclusions that are uncomfortable and inconvenient, but society will never progress if people choose to assimilate only the ideas that reinforce their personal biases and protect their own interests.

    Evolutionary theory and scientific evidence tell us that animals — from mice to monkeys — possess all the same characteristics that make it repugnant to experiment on humans without their consent. Animals who are locked in laboratories, just like the dogs and cats with whom we share our homes, have their own lives and preferences and experience pain, suffering and pleasure. They express empathy when other animals are in distress, and they exhibit altruism, putting themselves in harm’s way rather than allowing a friend or relative to suffer. They are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. Their lives matter to them and should matter to us too.

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  12. 12. darioringach 12:40 pm 10/7/2011


    By “our” moral boundaries I mean, of course, society’s moral boundaries.

    Let me explain. Medical scientists engage in animal research because we, as a society, through our representatives, consider the work important to advance medical knowledge and morally permissible.

    I understand PeTA does not accept this outcome.

    If you oppose, then you should try to explain the public the moral reasoning behind the notion that animals should have basic rights to life and freedom. That they should not be used under any circumstances to advance the well-being of humans nor animals. And, of course, that they should not be used for food nor any other products.

    Let me be a bit more specific — by a “moral argument” I mean something else besides nude celebrities hugging bunnies, which seems to be PeTA’s notion of a moral argument.

    “What happens to animals in laboratories would be considered criminal cruelty to animals if it occurred elsewhere.”

    What happens to a patients in the operating room would also be considered cruelty if it took place on your kitchen table, done by untrained people, with no purpose whatsoever.

    “No experiment — no matter how painful or trivial — is prohibited, and painkillers are not required.”

    That’s a blatant lie!

    “Even when viable alternatives to animals are available, the law does not require that these alternatives be used…”

    Have you actually read the NIH guidelines?!

    “[Animal researchers]…are quick to acknowledge the similarities between species in order to justify the use of animals as proxies for humans, but they are even quicker to minimize and disregard the obvious moral implications”

    Physiological similarities is not the same as cognitive similarities, which is what matters when it comes to moral status.

    “Evolutionary theory and scientific evidence tell us that animals — from mice to monkeys — possess all the same characteristics that make it repugnant to experiment on humans without their consent.”

    No. I don’t see an ant as having the same characteristics as a human that make it repugnant to experiment on it. Such characteristics are not all-or-none, they have degrees. And, furthermore, the science points to a gap between humans and other species.

    See, for example,

    And now that I have your attention, may I ask a few questions myself?

    What is PeTA’s position on childhood vaccinations?

    What is PeTA’s position on violence by animal extremists directed at scientists? Do you think these encourage scientists to participate in dialogue?

    What is PeTA’s position on environmental ethics? Should humans intervene to balance an ecosystem? (Such interventions typically means killing of animals).

    As for scientists’ discussion of moral issues,

    I’d suggest reading Adrian Morison’s book and “An Odyssey with Animals”, and I also wrote an article on the topic (

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  13. 13. Alka Chandna 1:59 pm 10/7/2011

    While Princeton philosopher Peter Singer is credited with being the father of the modern animal liberation movement, Charles Darwin planted the seeds for the movement. Darwin’s explorations into evolution and the origin of the species deeply challenged the theretofore commonly held view in the west that humans were “created” in the image of God and that other animals were “created” for humans—closing the perceived gulf between humans and other animals. His work laid the foundation for our understanding that the differences between humans and the other animals are differences “of degree and not of kind.” Richard Dawkins, the foremost living Darwin scholar, refers to the other species as “our cousins” and decries our treatment of the other animals as being borne of “flagrant speciesism” and “speciesist vanity.”

    As posts by animal experimenters in response to this blog make clear, a century and a half after the publication of “Origin of Species,” the animal experimentation lobby still has trouble understanding Darwin’s legacy. That legacy pushes us to take seriously the moral implications of using animals as a means to our ends—implications that animal experimenters have variously dismissed as “unnecessary fuss” (please see:, “red tape,” “regulatory burden” and excessive “paperwork” (please see: While experimenters use the window dressing of oversight committees and “stringent regulations” (more on these shortly) to make their actions seem more palatable to the public, they are unable to reconcile the logical inconsistency on which their actions are based: on one hand, they say they use animals in experiments because animals are like us, and on the other hand, they say that it’s morally permissible to experiment on animals because animals are not like us.

    Much is made of the “stringent regulations” that govern the treatment of animals in laboratories in the U.S., but in the U.S., there is only one federal law—the Animal Welfare Act (AWA)—that governs the treatment of animals in laboratories and that law predominantly pertains to matters of housekeeping: the size of the cages, the temperature range for the animal rooms, the lighting, feeding (isn’t it a sad state of affairs when we have to legislate to ensure that experimenters adequately feed the animals in their laboratories?), and so on. Where considerations related to treatment of animals are addressed in the Act (provision of veterinary care, pain relief, etc.), the loopholes are so huge that often animals are ostensibly stripped of even these meager protections.

    What’s more, the great majority of animals used in experimentation—mice, rats, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and agricultural animals used in agricultural experimentation—are excluded from the minimal regulations of the AWA. These animals—who constitute more than 95 percent of the animals used in experimentation—have no legal protections whatsoever.

    Much is also made of the work of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs), charged with reviewing proposed protocols and ensuring that animals are treated as humanely as possible within the context of what are often invasive and lethal experiments. However, multiple audits by the Office of the Inspector General and surveys of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s inspectors indicate that IACUCs are simply not doing their jobs. Rather than working as the animals’ last line of defense, the IACUCs have devolved into rubberstamping committees.

    Indeed, Darwin was not only correct in asserting our relationship with other animals; he was also – sadly – correct in his belief that the regulation of the enterprise of animal experimentation would not adequately address the moral problems associated with it: this is all too clear in the failure of regulations in the U.S. to prevent the most egregiously cruel experiments from taking place or to deter experiments from flauting federal law. What is required, as Darwin knew, is “the improvement of humanitarian feelings,”–what Einstein referred to as a “widening [of] our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures.”

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  14. 14. allan_g 2:53 pm 10/7/2011

    Thanks for the reply, clarifications and links , dario . Much of your position seems based on the definition of “rights” and a heavy emphasis on an intellectual elite determining what society thinks is morally correct .

    To state a consensus exists about this issue may involve a high degree of imagination on your part . And even if a vote was taken , it doesn’t necessarily mean the majority is correct -regarding the ethics (or lack ) of harming animals for research and profit .

    I do however think that you recognize this as a complex issue and agree with you on some points , however by dismissing others who place animal physical and emotional health on a more precious level than you do may be an indicant of a wish to dominate – perhaps I am incorrect .

    #3 typo – should have been D. Ewen Cameron

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  15. 15. EricMJohnson 3:20 pm 10/7/2011

    @allan_g: I want to step in here and let you know that I think you’re out of line. It’s one thing to disagree with the position someone takes on a controversial issue and quite another to cast judgment on their personal motivations. Let’s please try to keep this discussion focused on the issues without impugning anyone’s character.

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  16. 16. darioringach 4:19 pm 10/7/2011


    No, I don’t think an “intellectual elite” should decide what is morally correct. I think society as a whole through civilized debate should.

    No, I don’t think scientists have a higher moral authority than any other member of the public on these issues. (This is in stark contrast with those animal rights extremists that firebomb our homes, cars and attempt to harass and intimidate our families to comply to their views.)

    Can you suggest any other way to resolve moral disputes in a democratic society?

    I certainly don’t dismiss the views of others that place the harm of animals on a higher level than I do. Yes, I do reject the animal rights view, which places the harm to a mouse on the same level as harm to a child. And yes, I admit I have little patience for those that enter the debate denying the benefits of science, misrepresenting research, and casting doubt on the true motives behind the work of scientists (as Mr. Goodman did in a prior comment).

    I do recognize there is a broad spectrum of positions on this complex topic (even among scientists) and our goal in this debate is to find some common ground. One obvious problem is that fir those that adhere to the notion of animal rights (rejecting animal welfarism) there cannot be any acceptable compromise. Instead, they want to see an end to all animal research. No matter the species, purpose or potential benefits. In this case, there is obviously no room for any productive dialogue.

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  17. 17. darioringach 4:27 pm 10/7/2011


    No, the issue is not merely “can they suffer”.

    If so, we should find morally permissible to do invasive experimentation in a child with congenital insensitivity to pain, like this girl:

    I hope you would not find this acceptable (neither do I)… but why exactly?

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  18. 18. Maggie_Olson 7:54 pm 10/7/2011

    I regularly hear discussions about animal experimentation as being about ethics vs. science and I was so pleased to find this balanced response. I completely agree with the conclusion that “being pro-science does not mean being pro-cruelty.” I read this article as a defense of science against those who would claim that scientists are not concerned about the abuse of animals (though clearly some are more than others). I didn’t know that Darwin was involved in protecting animals from abuse. It makes me respect him so much more. He wrestled with the complications involved and took a stand. I wish more of us had that kind of courage.

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  19. 19. darioringach 9:38 pm 10/7/2011


    Your complaints about regulation are an attempt to mislead the public.

    You are not interested in improving animal welfare in Labs nor is the organization for which you work, PeTA.

    Does PeTA see any improvements to the AWA that, if performed, would result in them approving of animal research?

    If so, state clearly what improvements are that ones you are asking.

    If not, simply state that you oppose animal research under all and any circumstances, independent of any regulation or compliance mechanism.

    State that your goal is the total abolition of medical research with animals and, in fact, the abolition of the use of animals by humans in any shape or form.

    Is PeTA an animal welfare or animal rights organization?

    Don’t bother… it was a rhetorical question.

    Perhaps you or someone else from PeTA can answer the questions I posed to Justin Goodman above?

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  20. 20. allan_g 11:46 am 10/8/2011

    Perhaps I was to candid in my remarks . Yet , that was my honest impresion from reading dario’s other essays he link to – my apologies if I offended .

    An extention of the democractic process regarding this issue could be a disclosure of experiments Before they are started and facts regarding sponsors, actual damage to animals , anticipated outcome , species and institutions involved .

    My quess is much of the experiments are shrouded in secrecy and calls for “society’ to debate this issue is empty rhetoric coupled with a process controlled by corporate entities with goverment support .

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  21. 21. focalist 1:00 pm 10/8/2011

    That’s simply nonsense. Such experiments are not carried out in “secrecy”, and your disingenious attempt at creating a monster where there is none fails.

    The fact of the matter is the majority of primate testing is actually done right up the street from me, at “The Monkey Farm”, aka Harvard University Primate Research Center.

    I’ve had tours of the facility, it’s a tremendously interesting place. I also know a number of employees.. folks who do the day-to-day work of keeping hundreds of varied primates. That’s a lot of feeding and cleanup.

    The fact of the matter is that you won’t find more compassionate people than most of the scientists that work there. They take no pleasure in some of the research- one of the most important lines of research involves AIDS. That means monkeys must be infected with a fatal disease, and then they try to save them. I’ve seen the habitats, clean and nice toys.. but you know that every one of the monkeys has already gotten what will be a lethal disease. However, it’s from research with these very primates that we have developed drug cocktails which save humans every day. Our best chance for an HIV vaccine is the Harvard PRC.

    The animal’s suffering, which they try to limit in every way possible, is not something we like to think about– but when it comes right down to it, it’s better to lose a chimp than a human, especially if that chimp’s death may save thousands of humans.

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  22. 22. jgoodman 1:47 pm 10/8/2011


    You said to me above that, “If you oppose, then you should try to explain the public the moral reasoning behind the notion that animals should have basic rights to life and freedom. That they should not be used under any circumstances to advance the well-being of humans nor animals…Let me be a bit more specific — by a “moral argument” I mean something else besides nude celebrities hugging bunnies, which seems to be PeTA’s notion of a moral argument.”

    Contrary to the show you’re putting on, you well know that PETA and I are doing this constantly. Indeed, earlier this year I wrote a nationally syndicated op-ed ( laying out the ethical argument against animal experimentation that you took particular issue with and personally devoted an entire post on Speaking of Research to criticizing: There, like in the comments you posted above, you actually spend very little time discussing the content of my argument and lot of time obfuscating and hand-waving (i.e. up above, I mention animals “from mice to monkeys” and you responded by posting something about ants. I mentioned “similarities” between species, and you said something about how physiology is not morally relevant).

    PETA is unequivocally opposed to animal experimentation (or any human uses of animals) and is constantly expressing to this to the public and our members. Its not a secret. This doesn’t make Alka’s criticisms of the oversight system invalid. Ad hominem attacks like yours really don’t help to foster dialogue, which you claim to be interested in.

    Above, you claim that my fact-based statements about what is and isnt allowed in labs under the law were “a blatant lie!” and quipped about whether I have read the federal guidelines governing animal experimentation.

    I now suggest that you go back and read the Animal Welfare Act and PHS Policy:

    You will not find any language stating that alternatives must be used when they’re available and that expeirments that are too invasive, painful, harmful or stupid are prohibited. The law is very clear that it allows any amount of pain to be inflicted on any animals in labs, and even for pain relief to be intentionally witheld as long as the right paperwork is filled out (Empirical studies show that between 98% and 99.5% of IACUC protocols proposed are approved, so that bar is quite low). Regarding alternatives, you need to ask some friends about alterntives and look on the internet, but you dont actually need to use the alternatives you identify. If you happen to work in a lab that isn’t funded by the NIH and that experiments on animals that aren’t covered by the AWA, then you dont even have to fill out that pesky paperwork because there isnt any regulation of those activities.

    Absoltuely nothing I said was inaccurate.

    Dario, I am going to give you credit and assume that you know better than the silliness you’re posting above and that you are just using these red herrings, faulty generalizations and other logical fallacies to entertain the readers of these comments. But, if you are not even willing or able to recognize the basic FACTS about the laws and guidelines governing animal use in laboratories, I don’t see how we can have a more nuanced discussion about ethics.

    Today, more people than ever are morally opposed to animal experimentation (43% of American adults in Gallup’s 2011 poll (which is up 10% in the last decade); and half or more of women and young adults). If you actually care about what the overall public’s sentiments are about this issue (and not just animal experimenters and the intellectual elite) and that these attitudes should guide how we treat animals, then when opposition hits 50% in a few years, I look forward to seeing how you then explain how anim experimenters are just doing what the public wants (even if, of course, they dont know it).

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  23. 23. darioringach 9:00 pm 10/8/2011


    We welcome dialogue with those interested in improving the welfare of the animals.

    My efforts at dialogue in the last couple of years are documented elsewhere:

    I also invited Brian Hare to the NIH symposium on the AWA earlier this year so he could share his ideas about how animal preferences can be used to improve animal welfare in laboratories.

    I now invited you to share with the public what changes to existing regulations would satisfy PeTA. Unfortunately, your response indicates PeTA is solely interested in the complete abolition of all research and under all circumstances.

    And we understand, for PeTA is an animal rights organization, not an animal welfare organization.

    Indeed, there is a fundamental difference between our positions. You hold that all living beings have a basic right to live their lives free of human interference merely because they are sentient. You accept there are degrees in the cognitive abilities of various species, but deny any of any of these differences are morally relevant in any sense.

    You mislead the public when you deny the benefits of the science and suggests alternatives are available when they are not. You mislead the public when you suggest any experiment goes, for whatever purpose, and in whatever species one chooses. Nothing can be further from the truth.

    As you know, the NIH guidelines stipulate that one must justify the species and number of animals required, the use of less-invasive procedures, other species, isolated organ preparation, cell or tissue culture or computer simulations when these are available, the appropriate selection of sedation, analgesia, and anesthesia. All universities submit an assurance that they will comply with the guidelines.

    Proposed studies are recommended for funding by NIH only if a panel of independent experts find them likely to advance a particular field of study. Both the NIH panel and the IACUCs must approve the protocols. Labs are inspected biannually by the local IACUC and at random times by the USDA. Of course, nothing of this should matter if you believe the rights of animals are not being respected.

    I should add that, aside from our deep philosophical differences, there is another important issue that makes any meaningful conversation with PeTA nearly impossible. Namely, PeTA appears to support violence as a way to achieve its objectives. Support for such a view comes from past declarations of its top leadership and PeTA’s financial support of convicted animal extremists.

    Has anything changed in this regard? Does PeTA approve of the firebombs, razor blades, harassment and threats directed at scientists? Does it support the bombing of fast food restaurants, supermarkets, universities and biotech companies?

    Are we to interpret these as invitations for dialogue from animal activists?

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  24. 24. darioringach 1:07 am 10/11/2011

    Hello? Alka? Justin?

    Well, I guess I was left alone here. I will leave you all with a video of another PeTA employee, Jeremy Beckham, and his associates “educating the public” about their goals.

    This is from a demonstration in Salt Lake City. I wonder what those flags mean…

    Oh, yes, they mean “Dear Scientist, we want to talk to you about something.”

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  25. 25. JoeErwin 9:23 am 10/11/2011

    Dear Friends,

    Please continue to care about chimpanzees, humans, and other animals. The health and well-being of ourselves and our fellow beings with whom we share this planet matter very much. We are correct to spend our time and money trying to make our world a more humane place that is as free as possible from suffering and sorrow.

    Physicians and veterinarians depend on science as a means of advancing knowledge to help humans and nonhuman animals. Without reliable knowledge and treatments the challenge to “First, do no harm,” becomes very hard to uphold. None of us is really willing to accept ignorance as the solution to human or nonhuman animal ills.

    Even so, we have rules about how we can learn from other humans (I volunteered for “Operation Whitecoat” nearly 50 years ago, and have been a human subject several times since then–without any associated problems). Likewise, there are many rules and regulations that must be strictly followed when the subjects are nonhuman animals, and these are especially strict for chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates. Chimpanzees are not “tortured” or “abused.” Very few are involved in any kind of invasive research. Most of those in research colonies are continuously housed in social groups in indoor-outdoor enclosures. Even in the most restrictive conditions, social housing is the rule rather than the exception, and the enclosures are spacious and enriched.

    But, as we know from their own literature, extreme animal rights organizations are not interested in improving conditions where scientific studies involving animals are conducted. The only outcome they endorse is a complete and total end of research involving animals, and an end to zoos, prohibition of farm animals, and an end to the keeping of companion animals, etc. To them, humans should not interact with nonhumans. All of those are extreme positions, and all too often, the strident comments and misinformation provide fuel that pushes unbalanced people over the edge into violent acts unworthy of those who would be kind.

    Do care about chimpanzees, humans, and other animals. Support progressive improvement of care and housing for animals in laboratories, research colonies, and zoos. And by all means support constructive conservation efforts to save natural populations of chimpanzees and other animals and to advance international preventive medicine.

    Don’t be misled by the breathless propaganda promulgated by those who paint science as evil and scientists as monsters, and who tell stories from long ago about practices that have been discarded as a result of due consideration based on increased knowledge and understanding.

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