To the Editor:
I am in a different section of the neuroscience lab (neuroscience 211) that was protested by OAR [Oberlin Animal Rights] last week. Because of the protests, I decided to write this letter now, instead of at the end of the semester as I had planned.
So far in this lab, for my benefit, 5 rats and a cockroach have been tortured and/or killed by me or my group or for our benefit. I use the word "tortured" despite the fact that any invasive procedures are performed under anaesthesia; there is no way that brain surgery is going to be anything but uncomfortable and unpleasant. Still, I do not regret taking the course. Moreover, I think that OAR's protest was not the best way for them to pursue their aims.
The issue of animal testing is a difficult one. How many animals can one morally sacrifice for what benefit to what group? However you answer that question, I think certain things are clear. You should only engage in animal testing if your goals have some moral justification, you should keep the number of animals you test on, and the pain you cause them, to a minimum and you should be willing to listen to the views and ideas of others when considering animal testing and its alternatives.
The neuroscience department certainly satisfies all three of these criteria. Their goal - education - certainly has more moral force than finding a better cosmetic. They have tried to find alternatives, including computer models, to the procedures they ask us to do. They never hurt an animal or ask us to without using anaesthesia. And they spend the entire first class talking about the issues of animal testing, as well as being willing to discuss it throughout the term with students - and protesters. This was a big factor in my decision to take the course; I want to understand what animal testing means, not just the propaganda around it, before I make a decision about when and how it should be allowed.
I do not mean to imply that the class as it is is perfect. Sometimes, students (including me) do not take it as seriously as it warrants, given that other living beings are dying for us. Sometimes, the doses of anesthesia are not exact, and we end up causing the animals pain. And it is my opinion that the second-to-last series of experiments could be replaced with something which gives the students more room for thought and is less similar to the last series. Nevertheless, the department does its best, and that should be recognized.
This is why I find it hard to understand the actions of the protesters last week. I can empathize with someone who morally objects to the idea of animal testing, either in general or in this particular case. Yet it seems to me that the actions of the protesters were contradictory. On the one hand, they claimed that they were unwilling to "compromise away the life of a rat"; their spokespeople portrayed them as unconditionally opposed to any animal testing in any form. Yet on the other hand, they did, in fact, make compromises. They protested only one of the two sections, when, in all honesty, it is probable that if they had protested just one more section of the lab they probably could have kept the class from using any more animals for the remainder of the semester. Not to mention the fact that they chose a lab to protest, although taking the lab causes less animal suffering than a semester eating meat at CDS.
Looking at it this way, it seems that they in fact chose to protest the lab for three reasons. The first was their stated one, to relieve animal suffering. Second was the fact that this was an easy way to make a statement. And third was, paradoxically, the neuroscience department's very willingness to listen to their point of view, the openness that meant that they were not physically prevented from entering as they would have been in protesting a corporate lab. It seems to me that, if these material concerns had a bearing on their decision of how to make their statement, they should have let one more material concern in: the fact that they were taking away from the students of the class a learning experience that we were engaged in in good faith.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 23; May 3, 1996
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