Sunday, October 25, 2009

The 30% Solution

I would like to be an abolitionist also, and I think I have some pretty good reasons for wanting to do so, to think that way, to consider myself an abolitionist.

Moral status is for many ethicists independent of the claimant’s social position in the ‘hierarchy’ (phylogenic scale, in this case) or their role in socially constructing ethical theory.  In other words, moral status is not a private social product; it’s public to the extent that it is widely accorded the belief that it’s morally true (in some meaningful sense).

In other words, to claim that nonhumans ought not to be brutalized is somehow believed to be a morally true statement, and the place and status of the ‘ought’ will be thought to be correct.  Is ‘ought’ indicative of a duty that is ‘owed’ to the claimants (in this case, those for whom the claim is made)?  Yes.

To claims that animals ought NOT to be brutalized is further qualified by ‘in science’ or ‘in the name of science’.

There are at times qualifiers which modify the ‘ought’ (as in ‘just war’ theories), and I do NOT believe that science qualifies as a ‘just war’ modification of our obligation to not harm vulnerable sentient beings.  Lab animals are not individually out to harm us deliberately; if rodents were to consume our grain or other crops, we with capacity to construct our social relations with the ecological ‘others’ could be expected to do so in order to protect OUR interests without negating ours.

We have many moral illustrations of the long history of attempting to benignly address the needs of others without harming ourselves – some more gracious, some more loving, some more brilliant than others.  Consider one which many of us know: the Hebrew proscription (as in the narrative about Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz) to leave the corners of the field ungleaned so that the poor scavengers could find enough to get by with some reasonable effort.  They didn’t have a free food pantry as such, but they were given (by conscious forethought) enough to take by a modest amount of effort on their parts – and it was 100% plant-based food, too, unlike many of the free food pantries you and are asked to support, which conflicts with many of OUR deeply-held moral values about not trading off the interests of some – the animals – in order to address the interests of others – the class of persons benefitting from our exploitation and abuse and murder).

But this illustration shows how those without ready access to meeting their needs are seen as morally significant persons with interests that we ought to consider.  Short of socializing all effort and recruiting these persons (perhaps they were antisocial or uncooperative, but the narrative doesn’t paint them that way, nor even suggest as much), the social ‘solution’ seems to have been widely affirmed – at least b y those who subscribed to the moral teachings of ‘leaving the corners of the fields’ (of grain) for the outsiders to glean after the ‘main’ gleaning had been finished.

Was this a potential ‘waste’ of edible grain?  Perhaps.  Is there a risk of inefficiency?  Perhaps.  But the system was widely known.

In thinking about nonhumans in the context of our (socially constructed) ‘duties’ to care for our fellow human beings AND to provide extra for them (as a safety net when they are injured or get ill, whether because they have been personally careless or inept, or because they were vulnerable to the malice of others), one claim (the appeal to do science on behalf of future victims and potential victims) runs afoul of the prior moral claims of nonhumans to not be harmed by direct intentions, by direct interventions.

Given that there are these claims to provide a medical safety net, even those who favor those socially-constructed claims can understand that killing or harming unwilling animals because of their vulnerability is morally objectionable.  In other words, it can REASONABLY be considered objectionable based on the physical characteristics of these sentient nonhumans.

Given the ‘moral difficulty’ of solving these problem, compromise solutions are often presented, as the ‘public option’ is offered in the USA as a compromise between single-payer and what single-payer’s opponents call ‘market-driven’ solutions.  SP friends are unhappy with the compromise; free-market advocates are unhappy; whether the compromise works for the greater benefit and satisfaction of the vast majority is not yet known (and can only be reasonably predicted).

In the vegetarian (and vegan) world, we have the 10% solution, which is offered to meateaters to consider life with meatless meals.  One meatless day per week would be about 1/7 (or 14.2857%), which they TERM ‘the 10% solution) in that (THEORETICALLY) it could free about 10% of agricultural land (and presumably return it to a ‘wild’ state (though it’s likely to be exploited by real estate developers).  The term 10% is widely-known in monotheistic religious contexts when talking about ‘tithing’ (giving 10% ‘off the top’).

But I’ve long suggested the 30% solution as follows:

The overwhelming proportion of researchers in the life sciences (whether they use animals or not) are researchers only, not fund raisers.  They depend upon funding (for laboratories, salaries, supplies, and animals).  They seek funding from corporations, government grants, private foundations, individual benefactors, and some other sources.  Grant money typically has an overhead percentage that goes to the hosting institution(s).

I propose that a ‘first 30%’ be given to fund aggressive research INTO nonanimal research methods – methodological research into developing and validating nonanimal research methods.

This suggestion itself is likely to make me (in the aggregate) far MORE enemies in the vegan world than I’ve already made in my 30-35 years of veganism, but let it be discussed.

It’s not abolitionism; it’s likely to be termed ‘welfarism!

However, short of addressing the CLAIM that is widely-accepted that some things NEED to be researched and understood and that, to date, nonanimal research methods (for doing WHAT WE THINK WE NEED TO DO/RESEARCH) are not yet available with a confidence level sufficient to warrant their use instead of animal methods (not in conjunction with animal research methods), we have no quick response EXCEPT the moral argument that animals are not ours to eat, wear OR EXPERIMENT UPON.

(I accept fully that NO person is ours to eat, wear, or experiment upon, and I wish folks like Bill Maher and the ‘social deconstructionists’ we accept into our camp would understand that some interpersonal social behaviors that are widely accepted by the morally casual’ either are or lend themselves more to experimenting upon sentient beings (and as such, should be frowned upon and denounced.  But I digress.)

But let’s do a little analysis here of my suggested “30% solution” that would fund the development and validation of nonanimal research methods in the same way that tobacco taxes and penalties on tobacco companies fund aggressive health education about the risks and harmful effects of tobacco use.  In a libertarian political context (and more and more dietary vegans are TERMING themselves libertarians; I’ll see HUNDREDS of such ‘libertarian vegans’ at the upcoming Boston Vegetarian Food Festival), what else can we do?  Yes, it’s a political and moral compromise, and we’re not coming back to the animals OR ‘the district’ with the solutions we had wanted.  But in the same spirit that we send elected representatives to our democratic legislative bodies and expect them to bring SOMETHING back that is better than no representation at all, is the 30% solution a totally contemptible half-way ‘solution ‘ in light of the historical hope that we WILL – with the intelligence, ingenuity, collaboration, funding, and moral will to do so – be able to develop somehow the social consensus that replacing animal models in ALL basic science (as in toxicology and other research, including military wound research) is both desirable AND feasible, and we offer a provisional means to help our societies get to that point of total abolition of animal research?

Here’s the current downside of NOT replacing animal models:

Not only are animals sacrificed in research facilities, but the credibility of the moral claim that NO animals are ours to eat, wear OR EXPERIMENT UPON is diminished BECAUSE we’ve already consented to let them be experimented upon BECAUSE of the moral gravity of the moral claim that our fellow humans need a medical ‘safety net’ that is perpetually improved.

Yes, we are being asked to trade off our abolitionism for two things: (a) funding (finite) and (b) widespread public support for the belief – consensus – that research on animals is something that is morally objectionable, needs to be replaced, and MUST be replaced within the foreseeable future.  The ‘win’ here is that we work for the public agreement on the 3 Rs agenda, which they don’t FORMALLY approve or support AT THIS TIME.

This suggestion MAY be all wrong, but I’d like to see us incubate a discussion.

I further suggest that CLAIMS by researchers to love their animals because we can see that they love their dog(s) and/or cat(s) cannot be trusted BECAUSE they are not signing on to the replacement agenda in the 3Rs: reduce, refine, and replace.

For nearly 3 decades of street outreach, particularly at Harvard, when I see that I can make NO headway with researchers (some really DO want to see some possible consensus, perhaps because they tend to like me – as a bright person, accepted collegially), I suggest that the ACID TEST of whether or not they ARE talking in good faith is their public and wholehearted acceptance of the 3 Rs standard and THEIR willingness to fund and support replacement research.  Short of that WHOLEHEARTED acceptance of the 3 Rs to the point of sharing funding, I call their ‘moral pleas’ (of innocence and good will in a morally difficult context) ‘mere huff’ (and something to be publicly protested).

Of course, if NO experiments on nonhumans have ANY applicability to human beings [], then the 3Rs is moot and we should reject all medical experiments on animals (for human interventions) as unscientific .  However, the 3 Rs seems to suggest that (a) some experiments on nonhumans are less than optimal and should be replaced; (b) some experiments on nonhumans are less than optimal and should be refined, and (c) some experiments on animals are morally objectionable but AT THIS TIME are scientifically necessary to get WHAT WE THINK  we need to know (and we may find that there are other ways to reach the goal of health populations without pharmaceutical or surgical interventions.

That’s not how the 3 RS is always read, but closer study of the 3 Rs does seem to suggest that as a valid reading.

At the Longwood Medical Area’s annual lab equipment 2-day exhibition, a number of research facilities DO offer nonanimal research methods, but in that context there’s a certain anxiety about billing themselves as nonanimal research method developers.  But here are some of the non-ethical ‘drivers’ or forces moving less-than-concerned animal researchers towards replacement of animal models wherever possible:

(a)    Cost – experimental animals are VERY expensive to (i) purchase, (ii) house, and (iii) maintain, and (iv) hygienically and safely dispose of

(b)   Contagion – working with experimental animals poses some health risk to human researchers AND to those (i) associated with those human researchers [cleaning cages, cleaning labs, in the department, traveling with them on public transportation, family members and friends, other colleagues] AND (b) those who deal in animals [hopefully HIPAA-compliance in the USA reduces some of this concern, but it’s still there].

(c)    Ethical discord among researchers and their communities

(d)   Risk of violence developing among researchers who work with animals (a recent study, I believe at Cornell, showed that interpersonal violence among researchers who deal with animals is potentially volatile).

(e)   Potentially better results from nonanimal research methods

(f)     Repeatability of experiments is easier and cheaper, and science is nothing if not repeatable.

(g)    Training (surgical training specifically) needs to be done FAR more times than is affordable using animal-based models for surgical training; healthcare is plagued with medical errors, and systems- research, including work offered by Dr. Donald Berwick of Cambridge-based IHI – the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, suggests that we need to require much higher levels of surgical practice and that is not affordable without shifting to simulation modules, as offered by SimuLab and a few other providers (in the USA).

So let’s think NOW about the 30% solution and, as we near the tipping point for shifts in research paradigms, perhaps th entire house of cards (or most of it) will fall IN OUR LIFETIMES.

Vigorous debate is encouraged!

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