Dario Ringach, a former UCLA vivisectionist and proud proponent of animal research, seems to think he has found a knockdown argument against… animal rights?…. the character of animal activists? I’m still not sure. Let’s see if we can work through yet another “argument” directed at the animal liberation movement from the Speaking of Research community.
On more than one occasion, Ringach has criticized animal activists (or specifically, anti-vivisectionists) for receiving medical treatment that he claims was developed through animal research. His most serious charge is that certain animal activists are hypocrites.
There are at least three significant issues with Ringach’s “argument”:
1.Ringach fails to acknowledge that there are a number of moral principles an animal activist might endorse, some of which would justify an animal activist in receiving medical treatment that was produced from animal testing.
Ringach does not acknowledge that animal activists might embrace different moral principles, some of which could lead them to the conclusion that vivisection is wrong, but benefiting from past animal research is not. Ringach seems to assume that all anti-vivisectionists embrace the principles of animal rights (also note that it’s not so clear that even a theory of animal rights would forbid individuals from benefitting from past research on animals). Yet, one could come to denounce vivisection through utilitarian principles (do what action maximizes happiness) or principles from virtue ethics (do what is compassionate), neither of which lead to the conclusion that benefiting from past research is wrong. For instance, a utilitarian might accept that benefiting from past animal research would maximize happiness, but continuing to perform research on animals decreases happiness (because it causes an incredible amount of pain and suffering to both humans and animals). A virtue ethicist might argue that a compassionate person wouldn’t withhold life saving medication from a child that is available, but a compassionate person also wouldn’t continue to support research on animals since animal research has such horrible consequences for both humans and animals. The assumption that all animal activists are operating under the influence of animal rights principles speaks to Ringach’s limited knowledge of the many different ethical theories that call for an end to current animal research.
2. Even those who embrace a philosophy of animal rights are not hypocrites.
To be a hypocrite, it would seem that one willingly partakes in action X, an action which he verbally condemns, while having the option to not X. Yet, it doesn’t seem that this is the case for animal activists. Gary Francione points to this very issue in his book Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog. The following quote illustrates just how absurd Ringach-type accusations are:
We certainly could develop drugs and surgical procedures without the use of animals, and many would prefer we do so. Those who object to animal use for these purposes, however, have no control as individuals over government regulations or corporate policies concerning animals. To say that they cannot consistently criticize the actions of government or industry while they derive benefits from these actions, over which they have no control, is absurd as a matter of logic. And as a matter of political ideology, it is a most disturbing endorsement of unquestioned obeisance to the policies of the corporate state. Indeed, the notion that we must either embrace animal exploitation or reject anything that involves animal use is eerily like the reactionary slogan “love it or leave it,” uttered by the pseudo-patriots who criticized opponents of American involvement in the Vietnam War (Francione 1995, 181).
Furthermore, as I will argue below, the central goal of the animal rights theory is to stop the current and future violation of the rights of nonhuman animals. So, an animal rights theory is committed to both ending current animal research and prohibiting future research on nonhuman animals, it’s not obvious why an animal rights theory would forbid moral agents from benefitting from research that is over and done. Thus, one could argue that it is perfectly consistent for animal rights activists to abhor the continuation of animal research since it involves additional rights violations, while also benefitting from past research since this does not involve the current violation of animal rights.
3. Ringach only attacks the character of animal activists; not the principles of an animal liberation theory
The third, perhaps most significant concern, is the following: why does Ringach feel it is necessary to “prove” that some animal activists are, as he puts it, “hypocrites?” What the vivisection community needs to engage is the philosophy of animal liberation: not the personal lives of certain animal activists. Yet, what we see from the vivisection community, time and time again like a broken record, are the one and only type of “arguments” vivisectionists know how to make: ad hominem attacks (in this case, the implicit claim seems to be that we should reject the philosophy of animal liberation because the “believers” are “hypocrites”).
At best, Ringach has made a case that certain animal ethicists are hypocrites, but he still has not made any progress in defending the claim that animal research is morally justified (or that the philosophy of animal rights is wrong). Even if we could demonstrate that every single animal ethicist is a hypocrite, this still would not help Ringach and the pro-animal-research community one bit in defending and justifying the pain, suffering, torture, and abuse they inflict upon nonhuman animals in research. It seems, then, that by wasting time attacking the so-called hypocritical character of animal activists, Ringach can, once again, avoid providing a minimally decent argument that animal research is morally justified.
To actually make a case for animal research, Ringach needs to clearly state what he is responding to: the principles of the animal rights position (Francione and Regan’s theory, since this seems to be the only theory of animal liberation he is aware of) and he then needs to show how this theory is flawed. For instance, Ringach could argue that:
1. The philosophy of animal rights entails that one should not benefit from any research that is a product of animal testing.
2. A theory that instructs moral agents not to benefit from any research that is a product of animal testing is absurd and should be rejected.
Therefore, the philosophy of animal rights philosophy should be rejected.
This is known as a reductio ad absurdum (the claim that a statement/theory is false because absurd consequences would follow from its acceptance).
So, let us continue this discussion by giving Ringach the benefit of the doubt that this is what he really intended to illustrate at the end of the day.
Yet, there are two ways we can illustrate how even this argument is unsound: by disproving premise 1 OR 2. Let us consider the first premise:
The philosophy of animal rights entails that one should not benefit from any research that is a product of animal testing.
It’s not clear that the animal rights theory entails that one should not benefit from animal research. Understanding why this is so requires us to recall the central tenets of an animal rights position: the animal rights position forbids us from violating the rights of humans and nonhuman animals, such as the right to life and the right to bodily integrity. It is not clear how benefitting from medical treatment developed through the past use of animals (who are no longer alive) violates the rights of animals; it doesn’t seem that my use of medical treatments that have been developed through past animal testing causes the rights of an animal(s) to be violated.
But let us, for argument’s sake (personally, I think there is solid justification for rejecting the first premise), grant that the first premise is true. Let’s assume the following: the animal rights position does in fact demand us not to benefit from research that was performed on animals. For instance, perhaps it might be argued that the animal rights position forbids moral agents from taking advantage of animal research because doing so would perpetuate current animal research. Thus, one could argue that my benefitting from medical treatments that have been developed through past animal testing will result in additional violation of animals’ rights since the continual support of past animal research keeps current animal research in business.
Even assuming this is all true, we still must ask the further question: is it really absurd to demand individuals to refrain from practices that perpetuate the violation of the rights of others? This brings us to the second premise:
An ethical theory that instructs us not to benefit from any research that is a product of animal testing is absurd and should be rejected.
It’s not clear why this is absurd. In fact, it is quite reasonable to argue that it is morally wrong to partake or be a party to unjust and uncompassionate acts, especially if these actions perpetuate future harms against right bearers. The fact that we might suffer as a result just reminds us that being a morally good person is, often times, incredibly difficult. If someone expects a peaceful, smooth, enjoyable float down the road of morality, I think he/she might benefit by seriously reflecting upon what it means to live a truly ethical life. It is doubtful that a legitimate criticism of an ethical theory is the following: “it’s too hard.”
But more importantly, we must keep in mind that the medical advancements we have here today are not a result of animal research; they are here by mere chance. Since using animals as models for research is highly unreliable and animal research has a long history of killing and harming humans, it is safe to conclude that the medical treatments that we use today which actually do help humans are here by mere chance (see Greek, Pippin, Knight). In fact, we could have just as well developed these treatments by using a coin toss. As Tom Regan puts it, we “benefit in spite of, not because of what is learned from animal tests.” Animal researchers, like Dario Ringach and David Jentsch, who accuse animal activists of being hypocrites for “benefitting from animal research,” are sneaking in a very contested empirical claim, namely, that animal research is responsible for the medical advancements we have today. Those of us who have done our research about animal research know that animal research is the 4th leading cause of human death and is not, by any means, responsible for the advancements we have today. Mere Chance is.
At the end of the day, Dario Ringach, like most of his other fellow vivisectionists who blog on the Speaking of Research website, have succeeded in confusing the animal rights arguments while providing misdirected arguments that enable them to avoid addressing the realities of the atrocities they continue to inflict upon the innocent, vulnerable, and helpless who are treated as mere instruments or tools for research, while being held captive in the labs of scientists, subjected to horrors beyond our comprehension every day of their lives.