Conscientious Participators

If you object to a practice, should you stand on the outside and protest, or get in the middle of it and make sure it's at least done better? Surely it depends what the chances are of making a difference by protesting, and what good you could do on the inside.

I used to have an immediately negative reaction to the whole concept of a lab veterinarian. I suspect that much of what goes on in animal labs shouldn't be going on at all. So lab veterinarians always struck me as partners in crime. What were they doing in there, instead of taking care of animals who are valued for their own sake--like cats and dogs?

I completely changed my mind as a result of reading Larry Carbone's very informative and moving book What Animals Want: Expertise and Advocacy in Laboratory Animal Welfare Policy. This is a must read for anyone who wants to understand what goes on in US animal labs and what the Animal Welfare Act does (and doesn't do) for animals.

We find out in the first paragraph that Larry Carbone doesn't eat meat, a tidbit I found reassuring. It conveys (in less than 10 words) that he takes it seriously that we have obligations to animals. He never takes a stand for or against animal research (at one point he says we might not have a right to do it, but we "need" to). His position is rather that animal research is going to be done for the foreseeable future; so animals in labs need good caretakers and advocates; and who is better poised to be a good caretaker and advocate than a lab veterinarian?

It's very hard get "behind the scenes" in an animal lab.  If you let PETA be your escort, you will see one thing. If you let Americans for Medical Progress be your guide, you'll see another.  (Watch this PETA video and then this pro-research video, and feel your head spin.)  Carbone reveals that the truth is not the white wash we get from defenders of animal research. All is not completely well, and the Animal Welfare Act does not give animals all the protection they need. But the images of torture we get from animal rights organizations aren't representative either.

This is a book that will tell you how Animal Care Committees (IACUCs) really work--and whether they are anything at all like Human Subject Review Boards (the answer is no).  What about the 80,000,000 rats and mice a year that aren't covered by the Animal Welfare Act (amazingly enough)? Are they being treated much worse than covered species (like hamsters and guinea pigs)?  What happens when a lab flunks an inspection--for example, if the dog cages are too small? How much pain is inflicted on lab animals? How are they "sacrificed" when an experiment is through?  This is a book that answers many of the questions that will occur to you if you spend some time reading and thinking about animal research.

But what about conscientious participation?  Right or wrong?  I would say:  right.  Animal research will be done whether Carbone participates or not.  It would be unconscionable for all concerned people to look to the very, very far future, concentrating their efforts on bringing animal research to an end. Today's animals have to have their caretakers and advocates. It's interesting to learn, as well, that insiders have some power to reduce the number of animals used. Part of a lab vet's job is to serve on the animal care committees that must approve research proposals before they are sent to funding agencies.  Though these committees almost invariably approve of research (so they are by no means "ethics commitees"--see chapter 8), they can recommend using fewer animals.  They also have the power to shape the proposal in order to reduce pain and suffering.  It's all to the good for there to be caring veterinarians serving on these committees.

It's also true that lab veterinarians are poised to be whistleblowers, should it be impossible to solve problems on the inside.  Yet I imagine it must be a terribly difficult decision when to resort to that solution. Once a whistleblower, never again a lab vet--or so I would assume. The whistleblower becomes a protester on the outside, instead of a conscientious participator.

No doubt there also need to be protestors like that.  Peter Singer talks about some of them in the very thorough and disturbing chapter on research in Animal Liberation--another "must read" for someone trying to get a full picture of animal research.

I should say--as long as I'm commenting on books--an animal research bookshelf should also include The Animal Research War (Michael Conn and James Parker).  The chapters on what it's like to be targeted by animal rights protestors are very worth reading. As for the rest, the authors are admirably restrained about the word "terrorism," but I do think they white wash animal research.  They try to reassure the public that lab animals are adequately protected under US law. I think anyone who reads Singer and Carbone will find that extremely doubtful.


Wayne said...

I don't want to tip my hand entirely on what my Avatar proposal is about, but one of the things that the movie brought up: do we really know what animals want?

Singer is pretty intuitive about what constitutes pain and suffering for animals. You can just tell. But can we really just tell? If I were watching praying mantises mate, I might think that the female was being raped since she attacks the male by eating his head while he mates with her. Does the male volunteer his head? Does he want to die? Is the female being raped? I haven't a clue.

Wayne said...

Ack, hit enter too early. Otherwise my last comment was completely off topic with the exception of the title of the book.

So getting my comment back on track, Avatar also deals with this issue as well. Sigourney Weaver's character doesn't seem to like the plans the rest of the humans have for the Na'vi, she's a scientist just studying them. Is she doing something wrong by studying them like the vets are doing something wrong?

I really hate the "its inevitable" line of reasoning. Using that kind of reasoning, we can really justify just about anything. Its inevitable that people will use marijuana, so lets legalize it. Its inevitable that people will rape, so lets legalize it. (I know there is a big difference here....)

Not to say I'm abolitionist about this, I think the vets are doing a good thing being conscientious participators as you put it. I just want a better way to justify it.

Jean Kazez said...

No, no, there's no inference from "it's inevitable" to "let's legalize it" or "let's keep it legal." Not at all.

The inference is like this:

(1) Animals are going to be used for research for the foreseeable future.

(2) Lab vets can reduce their suffering by taking jobs in animal labs.

(3) Lab vets will not sacrifice anything of comparable moral importance by doing so. (For example, it's not as important for them to raise their voices in protest on the outside. Other people can do that job.)

(4) If you can prevent pain and suffering without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, then you should do so.

(C) Lab vets should reduce suffering by taking jobs in animal labs.

I can't see why a better argument is needed, because this is a good argument. (imho!)

Jean Kazez said...

Re: what animals want. We don't always know. Carbone is very convincing, though, on the point that we do know an animal doesn't want to get back in its cage or receive an injection (etc) when it's struggling mightily to get away. We know a lot about what animals want.

amos said...

Ok, but just to play the devil's advocate, what if lab vets as an organization refused to participate in any research testing with live animals, just as many medical associations refuse to let their members participate in torture, even though a doctor in a torture session will often save the victim's life by stopping the torture before it kills. Just playing the devil's advocate, of course.

Jean Kazez said...

I don't think there's any chance whatever of that, so lab vets can't justify non-participation that way. Of course, some day things could change, and there might be a chance of lab vets stopping research through a boycott--but not today.

I should be clear, I don't actually think all of animal research should suddenly stop. I just think "much" of it is pointless. "Much" is a very vague word--unfortunately that's the best I can do.

Faust said...

"really hate the "its inevitable" line of reasoning. Using that kind of reasoning, we can really justify just about anything. Its inevitable that people will use marijuana, so lets legalize it. Its inevitable that people will rape, so lets legalize it. (I know there is a big difference here....)"

This strikes me as confusing "legalize" with "accept completely." To use your drug war example, it is manifestly clear that drug use will continue regardless of how much money is pumped into the drug war.

We dried a war against alcohol and it failed. So we re-legalized it. That doesn't mean we have to accept alcohol. It just means we won't punish it in the same way. Why not take a similar approach to other intoxicants some people say?

I's not "it's inevitable so lets completely accept it." It's "it's inevitable so lets figure out ways of mitigating the aspects of the phenomenon that we can."

I doubt that many people make the "it's inevitable so therefore it's OK" argument. There is almost always a step 2, with maybe a step 3,4, and 5 to follow.

Jacquie Calnan, AMP said...

While the link to the PETA video seems to work, the one to the AMP video does not. The AMP You Tube Channel is www.youtube.com/raisingvoices.
The video is entitled "Touring an Animal Research Facility"
If anyone wants a free copy of the longer DVD from which this video is drawn,send an email to info@amprogress.org.

Jean Kazez said...

Thanks, I fixed it.

Jon said...

Isn't the danger that, by helping to make conditions for animals better in labs, that we fool the general public into thinking that the animals' lot isn't really that bad, and so impede progress towards abolishing animal experimentation altogether?

Jean Kazez said...

It would be immoral to neglect animals in labs, and use their condition in a campaign to abolish animal experimentation. You just can't do that. Animals are not just pawns to be used in a grand struggle for eventual liberation.

Besides, "neglect to liberate" is a hopeless strategy. No matter how bad the conditions in animal labs, animal research isn't going away. The public wants it, and it's sustained by huge, powerful institutions. So if you neglect to liberate, all you're ever going to achieve is neglect.

Frankly, there are few ideas I find more idiotic than abolitionist anti-welfarism. It astonishes me that anybody buys it.

Wayne said...

jean- Look at your response to Amos... That is the sort of its inevitable line of thinking that I was talking about. Why can't vets justify their position this way?

Let me give a concrete example. The Death Penalty in California was quite literally halted because the courts ruled that a medical professional was needed to administer lethal injections. Instead of just saying its inevitable that they'll find some doctor who would be willing to give the lethal injections, the two medical professionals recused themselves when the state tried to execute Michael Morales for the second time. After that incident, the state never tried to execute anyone again (as of yet).

Now I know the situations aren't quite the same since animals don't have the level of protection needed to make vets recusing themselves have the same effect.

The question then becomes are we sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance? We might be. Participating in something morally questionable harms our characters. The S.S. officer who is a Jewish sympathizer might say something like, I'm making their lives better for the time that they're here. I can't stop the holocaust myself. Its inevitable.

Don't get me wrong... I think lab vets are justified in participating... I just find the argument here lacking. And I'm not sure how I would justify their behavior any better.

Jean Kazez said...

Wayne--several things.

(1) I am making an argument about a specific situation. When you shift to the MD/death penalty case you have an entirely different set of facts. In the Vet/research case there is genuine inevitability. In the MD/death penalty case there is enough opposition to the death penalty that a boycott could make a difference. So what's right in the MD case doesn't shed any light on what's right in the Vet case. It just shows that conscientious participation isn't always right. Well--I didn't say it was always right. I said (first sentence!)--

"If you object to a practice, should you stand on the outside and protest, or get in the middle of it and make sure it's at least done better? Surely it depends what the chances are of making a difference by protesting, and what good you could do on the inside."

(2) I can't really sympathize with a person who would let animals go without a good caretaker and advocate, out of concern for her own character. While the character concern is real and legitimate, it is not enough to trump concern for animal suffering.

(3) Re: Holocaust example. Some Jews in death camps tried to get positions as "Capos" (leaders) so they'd be in a position to alleviate suffering. Though this put them in a position where they were doing more of the dirty work (sending people to the gas chambers, eg), they also had the power to do more good (give people extra rations, send them to labor assignments, etc). I think this was courageous and praiseworthy of them, though I would understand someone who just couldn't do the same thing.

John D Young said...

I am the lab animal vet featured in the "pro-research video" You should go to AMP's website amprogress.org to request a free copy of the entire DVD featuring 3 research veterinarians and one veterinarian in private practice

Jean Kazez said...

Dr. Young--Thank you for commenting. I showed that clip to my Animal Rights class last semester, to balance the PETA clip, and here's what bothers me about it--

At 1:30 you invite comparison between "human subject research committees" and "animal subject research committees." You say there is more regulation of animal research than human research, and you call the IACUCs "ethics committees."

I think that's all misleading because there's no comparison between human subject review and animal subject review. The quantity of regulation, with respect to details like cage size, food, pain-relief, etc., is immaterial. The important thing people need to understand is that human subject review committees make sure humans are not used in research without their consent or (when that's not feasible) when research benefits the subject.

Obviously, nothing of the sort is the case with animal research. Most research is bad for animals, and in fact lethal. It really isn't accurate to call the animal committees "ethics committees," as Larry Carbone very persuasively argues in chapter 8 of his book. When committees almost always approve research proposals, you just can't say proposals are being seriously scrutinized on an ethical level. The committees can't even be assessing something as ethically elementary as cost/benefit balance.

Carbone argues that IACUCs regulate how research is done, not what is done. Of course, that's not nothing. In fact, it's important and valuable. Yet the public should not think animal research is regulated in anything like the way human research is regulated. It's just not true.

John D Young said...

Jean thanks for your perspective. You are correct. The IRB’s (human subject committees) focus on informed consent. However you are of the mark slightly in stating that human subject research (clinical trials) is (always) designed to benefit “the subject”. Most clinical trials (almost always Phase I and quite often Phase II clinical trials) are not intended to benefit the participants, but rather to generate data/information upon which future clinical trials (Phase III and IV) can be designed/conducted to indeed benefit participants followed by widespread application of the device/pharmaceutical to the general patient (human and non-human, most discoveries in research designed to improve human health are directly applicable to veterinary medicine) population.

In addition the vast majority of clinica trials only go forward after pre-clinical trials (animal studies) demonstrate safety and efficacy of the test article.

In my 27 years as a lab animal vet I have served on 6 IACUCs. You are correct that the vast majority (but not all) of proposals submitted are approved, but often only after significant reduction of animal numbers and refinement of methodology (to minimize pain, stress, and distress) by the committee including the attending veterinarian. This in my opinion is an ethical focus.

The committees that I have served on have in fact rejected proposals base on a risk VS benefit assessment.

You are correct to point out that IRBs and IACUCs focus on different things, but to say that IACUCs do not consider “ethics” in their deliberations is not in my experience or opinion correct.

I encourage you to obtain the DVD and view it in its entirety.

Kind regards,


Jean Kazez said...

I should have said IRBs make sure that research doesn't harm, as opposed to benefiting, human subjects who can't give informed consent (like children).

Thanks for the feedback about IACUCs and whether they turn down proposals. There's no harm in saying IACUCs do have ethical concerns as long as we keep it clear that their mandate is extremely different from IRBs.

Before I teach Animal Rights again I'll try to get hold of the DVD.

John D Young said...

If you provide your mailing address I'll drop a copy in the mail to you tomorrow.


Jean Kazez said...

That would be great. I appreciate it.

Jean Kazez
Philosophy Department
PO Box 750142
Southern Methodist University
Dallas, TX 75275-0142

Jon said...

If vets refused to work in the labs, would the experiments be allowed to continue?

My point is that, by making the inhumane look humane, the vets in question may actually be ensuring that the experiments continue. In seeking to lessen suffering, they are actually unwittingly increasing it, by ensuring yet more animals will be bred, tortured, and slaughtered. Logically, I don't think their arguments really add up.

Jean Kazez said...

Jon, Right, if all the vets left their jobs, experiments might slow down or stop. But that's not happening is it? There are very, very few vets who think research should all come to an end. So a vet who refused to work in an animal lab wouldn't be joining forces with enough people to be effective. There would be no upside, but possibly a downside--animals lacking adequate care.

In any event, if you are serious about animals, and really think their suffering matters, you can't neglect them as a strategic maneuver--in an effort to make people think experimentation is bad. That's just not ethical.

Besides, neglect will make people want to see more vets in labs and better regulation, but no more. Most people are not going to want to put an end to research they see as saving human lives.

I'm not saying every single vet should rush to an animal lab, but the ones who work in them have good reasons for doing so.

Jon said...

Jean, Doesn't your argument against a boycott of labs by vets run somewhat against what you posted earlier regarding a tipping point and going vegetarian? Sure, one or two vets boycotting isn't going to make a difference. But none at all definitely won't.

I would definitely argue against letting animals suffer as a strategic maneuver. However, I'm not even that sure that vets are in any meaningful way alleviating the suffering that happens during experimentation, given quite how horrific some of the experiments are. They are applying a plaster when a trip to hospital would be more in order.

Most people I think are, yes, in favour of animal experimentation. However, we shouldn't encourage them by pretending that it's all very nice and humane...

Thanks for your blog, BTW, always very interesting and thought provoking!

Jean Kazez said...

Jon--That's an interesting point about tipping points. I might reply in a post, as I was thinking about that too.

Do vets really do anything significant for lab animals? I might have doubted it too, but Carbone's book convinced me that they do.

Alex Chernavsky said...

Jean wrote, "We find out in the first paragraph that Larry Carbone doesn't eat meat, a tidbit I found reassuring. It conveys (in less than 10 words) that he takes it seriously that we have obligations to animals."

I haven't read the book, but I'm assuming, then, that he still eats eggs and dairy products.

So here's a guy who has spent years in vet school, followed by a residency/internship in veterinary medicine -- someone who probably knows about the fact that dairy cows bond with their calves (only to have those calves torn from them), and that chickens are complex creatures whose natural instincts are thwarted in egg-laying operations (even the cage-free ones). And yet, he still chooses to contribute to the exploitation and suffering of these sentient creatures, simply because he enjoys the taste of cheese pizzas and ice cream cones.

It's interesting how you and I can look at the same facts and come to radically different conclusions. You think he's serious about animal issues. I think he's a piker at best.

Does that mean that he has nothing legitimate to say about the state of animal research? Not necessarily. But there's a good chance that his personal predilections will taint his reasoning, and I have a stack of unread books next to my bed, so I'm not likely to run out and buy his.

Jean Kazez said...

Ethicists think about issues systematically and don't just look at their own behavior and then try to rationalize it! For example--I do eat eggs/drink milk, but I question those practices in my book. Peter Singer does not give to Oxfam to the point of "marginal utility" as he says we should, but he argues that is the right thing to do.

I'll bet anything that if you thought about it long enough, you would discover there is a gap between your own beliefs about what you should do and your own behavior. You may have closed that gap in the animal arena, but I'm confident you haven't closed it in every other area.

Larry Carbone never says animal research is A-OK, even though he assists with it. So the notion that he's blinded by his eggs and milk is ridiculous...and in any event, I have no idea if he consumes them. I just know he says he doesn't eat meat, in the first sentence of the book.