April 24th: World Day for Laboratory Animals

By Tom Regan

During the past month, I was privileged to present a number of lectures on American university campuses. Half way through my talks, I always paused to ask, “Is anyone here from the media?” Not a single hand went up, which is par for the course. After all, my topic was animal rights, and there I stood, with all my clothes on, not doing anything outrageous let alone illegal. In other words, not doing anything “newsworthy” when it comes to animal rights.

April 24 is World Day for Laboratory Animals. It is the one day of the year when ARAs throughout the world focus on the plight of animals used in education, research, and testing.

What is done to animals utilized in these pursuits does not make for pleasant reading. They are drowned, suffocated, and starved to death. Their limbs are severed and their organs crushed. They suffer experimentally induced heart attacks and seizures, paralysis and blindness. They are forced to ingest caustic chemicals, inhale tobacco smoke, drink alcohol, and get hooked on various drugs, including heroine and cocaine. In the name of military research, they are subjected to conventional, biological, and chemical weapons, exposed to nuclear radiation, and burned by lasers and high-powered microwaves. The list goes on.

ARAs are saddened because of what (to us) is this long litany of cruel abuse, every bit of it perfectly legal, given extant legislation. Others of us are overwhelmed with anger. And some of us take our sadness and anger to the streets, resorting to vandalism and violence.

One thing is certain. If main stream media coverage of ARA activities on April 24 runs true to form, this is what the public will see. ARA vandalism. ARA violence. I mean, if you don’t have some ARAs spray-painting SUVs, breaking windows, or lighting torches, you don’t have an animal rights story. Right?

Wrong. There is another animal rights story. A number of them, actually.

There is the story being told by the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, whose members have made a convincing case for why animals never need to be harmed in the name of education, including veterinary education.

There is the story being told by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, whose members are working tirelessly to help the public understand why reliance on the “animal model” in medical research is a stage coach methodology—understandable in the 19th century, perhaps, but not in the 21st.

There is the story being told by the American Anti-Vivisection Society and the National Anti-Vivisection Society, both of which provide, free of charge, guides for consumers who want to buy products that have not been tested on animals.

There is the story being told by other national as well as grass roots organizations whose three most important goals, day in and day out, are: Educate. Educate. Educate.

And there is the story being told by poets and painters, playwrights and choreographers, historians and theologians, anthropologists and ethologists, legal theorists and philosophers, each in distinctive ways adding new layers to our understanding and appreciation of the other animals, including those sentenced to life in a laboratory.

Much is made, and deservedly so, of the importance of balance and fairness in reporting the news. How animal rights is covered on April 24th will be a good test case of the media’s commitment to these lofty standards.