GB No. 4(23)/96
Recently, I have read with great interest, a brochure "Eksperymenty na zwierzetach" (Experiments on Animals) published nearly a year ago by the Polish Academy of Skills. The text includes conclusions of the joint conference of the Committee of Ethics in Science PAN and the Commission for Medical Ethics PAU held in November 1994, regarding experiments on animals. The very fact that such a conference was organised is optimistic, as it proves that the pressure of public opinion as well as many scientists and humanists is so strong that people cannot turn their backs on the issues, however inconvenient they would be.
The immediate inspiration for the conference was the request of the Director of the Jagiellonian University addressed to the Committee of Ethics in Science PAN for issuing an opinion regarding vivisection. At the same time a letter came from Ms. J. Cox, Regional Director of the Eastern and Central European branch of The World Society of Animal Protection. The issue was burning, especially that the attitude of Poland as a future member of the European Community was to be formed.
Among others, representatives of the Society for Animal Protection and the "Animals" were invited to the meeting. The majority was formed, however, by members of institutions conducting experiments on animals and only their reports were published. Among the authors of the articles, there were no philosophers (who should not be mistaken with the historians of philosophy), ecologists or representatives of the movement protecting animal rights. Most of the texts were of embarrassingly low quality in terms of didacticism and the knowledge of the subject. It is hard to wonder, if one takes in to consideration that the question of vivisection status in the light of ethics lies beyond competence of laboratory employees: it would be as though a plumber had to issue opinions on e.g. annihilation of elemental particles.
The first of the afore mentioned authors, Jerzy Vetulani (from the Pharmacological Institute at PAN) tried to prove that compassion for animals is not intrinsic but it is a fashion rather, an attitude limited by time and place. The philosophizing pharmacist states:
"As late as in the XIX century one can observe a sort of sensitivity rising: animals became man's friends. This, in turn, resulted in distortion of nature conception: herbivorous animals were considered good while carnivorous ones - bad. That wild life is cruel - seems to escape attention. All those dissertations are aimed at convincing people that "animal rights" are not the natural ones, they are not formed by the real community of all living creatures and that the rights were hardly, if ever, protected by the major religious systems."
Naturally, if you know history only from the XIX century on, you can come to the conclusion that the movement in favor of animal rights started at that time. But then, what can be said about works of such authors as Pythagoras, Diogenes, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, biblical prophets, Indian philosophers, Egyptian priests, etc.? The answer is one: either Mr. Vetulani is not acquainted with the names (what a shame!), or he believes that these people lived in the XIX century.
Where did he find the belief that herbivorous animals are good, carnivorous ones are bad and nature is cruel? I have met with such a statement for the first time in my life. It reminds me of Engels and Darwin, who could not observe examples of co-operation, sympathy and altruism in nature but "struggle of all against all" (The Last Wave. Hobbes, the sect of evolutionists).
To strike the defenders of animals the final blow, Vetulani uses the following argument:
"Nobody [i.e. animal rightists] is really concerned with suffering or death of parasitic insects, although we cannot deny that they also can have conscience similar to ours and that they can feel pain."
I am concerned with the suffering of insects and I do not deny that they can have a conscience similar to ours. Therefore the above sentence is an apparent lie.
The author sums up: "Probably in result of the social changes, raised standards of living and increased amounts of free time that can be devoted to matters not connected with the everyday existence, the opinion that animals should be treated humanely emerged."
Another article was written by Wiesław Pawlik (the Institute of Experimental Physiology). His defense of vivisection takes a different course. He reaches to tradition and claims that experiments were conducted as long ago as the antiquity (here he quotes a few names, none of them renown). And what great discoveries did ancient, medieval and contemporary "scientists" make? Thanks to vivisection they managed to prove the existence of lymphatic vessels and presence of blood in arteries (it is not a joke!). They also proved that the heart beats (sic!), that a dog with an open thorax can live if its lungs are ventilated by means of bellows, that the heart pumps blood (sic!) and that ovulation takes place thanks to ovaries. What astounding knowledge! What geniuses Pristley and Lavoisier must have been as they discovered that oxygen is necessary for living (sic!).
According to the author, vivisection conducted today is not as cruel - the discovery of analgesics has reduced suffering of examined animals (by the way, they were discovered by means of vivisection).
However, the greatest discovery achieved through vivisection is insulin. The author does not mention that this could have been done without vivisection, the best proof of which is finding a much better synthetically insulin without tests on animals. Also, I cannot agree that, thanks to vivisection, many diseases were controlled: "many illnesses of circulatory and digestive system, allergies, neuroses and mental disorders". We must have had different sources, as I have found that it was achieved without vivisection and that a vegetarian diet was one of the most successful treatments!
There remains the most powerful argument used by the author: homeostasis. The study of homeostatic phenomena cannot, according to Mr. Pawlik, be conducted on isolated organs or tissues, as the organism must be perceived as an unseparable unity. However, the author forgets that homeostasis is nothing new: it forms a basis of native American and Indian medicine that could do without vivisection for centuries. The very notion of homeostasis is limited by the author to physiology only (communist attitude), while the homeostatic state is also connected with the psyche and spirit. A captured and tested animal cannot be a model for the experiment here, as its homeostasis is too different from the human one! If the homeostatic processes cannot be examined on an isolated organ, physicists, for instance, have no chance to discover the nature of the universe testing an isolated particle in a cyclotron; biologists cannot hope that they would learn about life on the Earth by examining an isolated organism, as they should rather study the Earth as a whole (the Gaia Hypothesis). Is such a way of thinking really logical and correct?
To end the article: one should wonder whether empirical experiments may be a source of any knowledge. As T. Kuhn and P. Feyerabend proved, all scientific discoveries made through the centuries had a revolutionary (or coincidental) character, so they were not the results of an accumulation of knowledge, research and experiments. In spite of what is taught at schools, the discovery of heliocentric structure of our world (i.e. the Solar System) by Copernicus was not supported by any empirical observation (even today there isn't one). Also Pythagoras, Democritus, Plato, Ptolemy, Newton, Einstein and many others could do without empiricism. The only experiments they conducted took place in their minds, and I wish the same to the employees of PAN and PAU.
reprinted from Zielone Brygady, Sept. '96,
transl. M. Maciejewska