Biological experimentation, writes science journalist Deborah Rudacille, has long been the province of a scientific elite that has not much cared to explain its work to the larger public. That public, she continues, has responded with a kind of don't-ask, don't-tell policy "whereby society will permit animal experimentation--and certain types of research on human subjects--as long as it is protected from the details." With the rise of the Animal Liberation Movement and PETA, however, that unstated policy has increasingly come into question, and research scientists have found it ever more difficult to employ animals (or humans, for that matter) in their work.
In her engaged and illuminating study of these clashing sensibilities, Rudacille ponders troubling questions. Does an elevation in the moral status of animals, she asks, necessarily mean degradation in the moral status of human beings? (Certainly, she responds, this appears to have been the case under Nazi Germany.) Is the killing of laboratory animals--nearly 10,000 in the case of the Salk vaccine against polio--justifiable in the face of the human lives that can be saved? Is it ethical to use the mentally ill as research subjects in studies that may yield cures for their illness? Philosophical landmines surround every attempt at an answer, and Rudacille takes pains to consider all sides of these and kindred issues. Her thoughtful work should provoke reflection and discussion. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
In this cautious, useful survey, Rudacille, a former writer and editor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, seeks a middle ground between biomedical researchers who defend animal experimentation as a necessary trade-off for potential benefits to humankind, and animal rights activists who would abolish such research. She begins with a lively account of the 19th-century antivivisection movements in Britain and the U.S., in which women figured prominently, then takes a side trip through Nazi Germany, where a ban on vivisection (perversely considered an aspect of mechanistic "Jewish" science) went hand in hand with appalling medical abuses, including eugenic sterilization, euthanasia and experimentation on human subjects. She provides in-depth profiles of animal rights pioneer Henry Spira and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) cofounders Alex Pacheco and Ingrid Newkirk. The absolutist tactics of the most visible, extremist critics of animal research, such as the Animal Liberation Front, whose members vandalize laboratories, have greatly diminished the moral legitimacy of their cause in the eyes of the public, according to Rudacille. She commends reform efforts in Europe, particularly in Great Britain, where stringent governmental oversight mandates a "cost-benefit analysis" for each animal experiment as a prerequisite to approval. Rudacille notes that in America (the world's largest user of lab animals), new technologiesAsuch as organ transplants from animal donors to humansAhave sparked intense debate over the ethics of biotechnology and its impact on society; she urges a tandem public debate on how these technologies affect animal welfare, not just human. (Sept.)
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