My mom was vigilant about us putting on sunscreen. Her brother had died of skin cancer.
After she was diagnosed with ovarian—the same cancer that took her mother when she was young—she wanted to stay alive so she could be there for her kids. My four years of high school were the years she fought her disease with the best treatments available. She passed away when we were 12–18.
At the hospice, before she died, she told me to write. I had always been a dedicated diary keeper, but too shy to share my words—especially the things I had to say about including animals in our compassion. I don’t know what my mom told other members of the family during their last talks, but I imagine she gave them similar encouragement. Do what you love, because life is short, and because I love you and I want you to be happy.
Human life is infinitely valuable. We all want to preserve our good health for as long as we possibly can. When you see family member after family member suffer and die, surely it is worth it to experiment on non-human animals in order to find cures?
Cancer now took several loved ones on my mom’ side, including her sister. My dad has Alzheimer’s, like his dad had and others. Someday, I will likely die from cancer or Alzheimer’s too. While some organizations raise money for finding cures, here is why I still don’t support it whenever animal testing is involved.
Everyone is against animal cruelty in theory. We need to practice what we preach because no one should be treated cruelly.
In theory, most of us are against the idea of causing needless suffering to an animal. Yet, the true status of non-human animals is made apparent by animal tests.
It’s as if we ascribe 10 units of value to a rabbit’s life, and 1,000 units to a dog’s, but because every human life is infinitely valuable, ultimately we are willing to do just about anything we want to a member of another species.
But a sentient being’s life is still infinitely important to them. Even if they are not self-aware as we are, they are fully conscious and they desperately wish to avoid suffering. Each and every one.
The only reason we can allow any cruel test on an animal—in my opinion—is that we simply are so focused on our own fears that we abandon moral principles. We think that all of our human interests automatically supercede a rat’s or a cat’s interests. Even when their need—the need to simply not be tortured in the immediate present—is clearly more urgent and compelling than our “need” to objectify them for research.
Science should be an ethical institution that gives moral consideration to the vulnerable
Watching the body or mind of a loved one break down has always been depressing. But my sorrow pales in comparison with what my mom, dad, and other family members have gone through.
Everyone dreads getting terminally sick. In cancer experiments, we forget the Golden Rule and we give animals the very diseases we ourselves are terrified of. We are creating more cancer patients as a strategy for saving our own—except “first, do no harm” sadly does not apply to an animal in a lab. Animals used in cancer tests include mice, zebrafishes, pigs, non-human primates, tree shrews, and dogs. Yes, dogs!
Cats are also victims of animal testing. I previously reported on one named Double Trouble, who was used for sound localization tests at Wisconsin-Madison. The cat woke up in pain during brain surgery due to improper anesthesia. Her wound was badly infected for months, which caused twitching and depression, before they put her down. The lab was closed in 2015 after a lawsuit, but much of the violence behind shut doors will never see the light of day. Nobody held a funeral for Double Trouble or cried for her, but that doesn’t make her suffering any less real than the suffering of a cat who had a loving home.
What if we stopped experimenting on animals? Yes, it would set back our technological progress, at least at first. However, so does the fact we aren’t allowed to use humans as non-consenting test subjects. Think about it. It certainly would be very useful if we could do all manner of damaging experiments directly on humans, instead of testing on animals’ bodies first which may or may not react the same. But this would be a human rights atrocity. A human should never be maimed or kept in miserable confinement for the sake of science. And neither should a being who is not human.
Groups like the International Foundation for Ethical Science give grants to scientists who are working on alternative model systems. As I write these words in late August 2021, the 11th World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences is happening virtually this week. If we move away from animal breeding and testing, and invest more in humane research, we can figure out faster how to eventually accomplish all the research we need without violating animals.
My mom’s legacy made me care about animals, and I will never stop caring until the day I die
My mom read us storybooks and streamed movies that made me fascinated to know who animals were. She put out nectar for hummingbirds, and she rescued an injured sparrow to nurse them back to health. I was raised with a dog, and when I was 11, and I asked my mom if I could go vegetarian. This hinged on the fact that she cooked (and excellently) for all of us.
My mom said yes. It was a gift I would forever appreciate her for. Her support of my desire not to hurt animals helped launch my lifelong journey as an advocate.
Animal cruelty may have saved our lives. I was born through a C-section, after all. So much of the medical and other technology we’ve created so far came from a system that has allowed the victimization of creatures in cages.
But as someone who believes the true meaning of “humanity” should be benevolence, I know that no one else should be treated horribly just so my life might eventually be benefited. Someday, I will get sick. I will die. I’m grateful for any help I can get, but I accept my fate with enough humility not to insist that any animal be treated with cruelty.
Until my deathday comes, I will try my best to prolong my life with a healthy plant-based diet that reduces the risk of cancer.
I will try to be there for loved ones whose bodies break down. I hope to be sweet to those around me. You never know when everything could change.
I will also support human and animal rights, including the right to not be made to suffer for someone else’s science or profit.
Get more like this—Sign up for our daily inspirational newsletter for exclusive content!
Photo: Travis Grossen via Unsplash