Editorial: Listen, talk, dicker

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1993:

Members of the ardently pro-vivisection Foundation for Biomedical Research got
quite a shock with their January/February 1993 newsletter. On pages four through six, the
editors extensively, respectfully, and congenially interviewed Henry Spira, the most effec-
tive antivivisection activist of our time and perhaps of any time. He’s not a household word,
because he doesn’t do big direct mailings touting his accomplishments, nor does he head a
multimillion dollar organization, or go on television regularly to shout about victories he
barely acknowledges, because he believes gloating is counterproductive. Still, working
virtually alone, with a miniscule budget, Spira has accomplished more over the past 17
years toward getting animals out of laboratories than any of the national animal rights
groups and antivivisection societies; perhaps more than all of them put together. The bio-
medical research establishment certainly knows his name, and significantly, some of the
most influential people in that establishment thought it was high time to open public,
friendly dialog––even if they got bashed for it by colleagues conditioned to view animal
use/protection as a war zone, a Manichean struggle between good and evil in which one
side or the other must ultimately be annihilated.

“Some may question the FBR Newsletter devoting space to the opinions of some-
one publicly opposed to positions supported by the Foundation (and its contributors),” the
editors acknowledged, “but we feel it is essential to keep our supporters abreast of argu-
ments made by both sides.”
Given the opportunity to address an audience of thousands of biomedical
researchers, whom many activists would regard as the enemy, Spira responded with tough
but understanding grace. Demonstrating precisely why he’s effective, he put aside inflam-
matory rhetoric and strident demands. Without yielding an iota of his moral position, Spira
worked to find common ground, including defining a positive role for the people who have
long been his opponents. Most important, he used and emphasized the word “we.”
“We need to develop a plan to overcome the blocks (to discontinuing all use of
animals),” Spira stated, “a lot of which have nothing to do with science but have to do both
with regulatory requirements and with bureaucratic inertia. Much of the thinking urges a
shifting of gears toward validation and implementation.”
Those were Spira’s words. His deeper message: we’re in this together. We all
mean well. Those of us outside the laboratories understand, or ought to, that those inside
are mostly people who in their own way are dedicated to reducing suffering, by combatting
disease and injury. We are divided not by our objectives, nor by our essential motivations,
but by the values we assume in deciding whether our ends justify the means used to achieve
them. We share an understanding of the difficulties involved in bringing about change on
the scale we seek. And we know, too, that we need the cooperation of the biomedical
research community in the process of change, as well as in the practice of it, because vali
dation and implementation are both essential parts of introducing alternatives, and are
work which only scientists can perform.
Inspirational individuals have long known that crediting people with noble quali-
ties tends to move them to live up to expectations––to develop the necessary qualities, if
they aren’t already present. Thus Spira credited biomedical researchers with compassion,
the very quality most antivivisectionists assert they lack most: “The fact that the science
community accepts alternatives, wants to promote alternatives, wants to use animals only
as a last resort, is a good omen…Scientists are not sadists. Most would want to eliminate
the use of animals in research, education, and testing. The point of contention is what’s
possible today and how fast can we move?”
Instead of pushing researchers into a defensive posture, Spira allowed them room
to align themselves with him, rather than against him, without sacrificing their own sense
of righteousness. This is particularly important. Most people, in order to change behavior
in significant ways, must feel good about themselves, if not necessarily about what they’ve
been doing. People who feel bad about themselves rarely risk failure by attempting some-
thing different, especially when under the scrutiny of aggressive critics. Instead, they
cling all the more steadfastly to their old behavior, to the point that action becomes part of
attitude and self-image. At that point, few people ever change either willingly or lastingly.
Always direct and sometimes caustic, Spira is neither a psychologist nor a diplo-
mat. He is rather a former labor negotiator, who developed his understanding of the process
of change on picket lines and at the bargaining table. He explained his modus operandi to
the FBR members, establishing a clear framework for fair exchange: “You start out with
attempting dialog in a rational way, and if there’s no response, you’ve got to be willing to
go public and keep escalating.” But the doors to rational dialog must always be kept open
and unobstructed. “In a labor situation,” Spira continued, “you don’t start out with a strike.
You start out with attempting to negotiate, attempting to talk. You use a strike basically as
a last resort. You’re not going out there to look for a fight; you’re looking to get results. It’s
important that you see issues as problems with solutions.”
And then, with the rules established and communication started, Spira began to
negotiate. “If one talks about the ethical issue (of vivisection),” he told the vivisectionists,
“I think that unless one believes in tyranny, nobody has a right to harm another, period,
whether it’s one human to another human or a human to an animal. But we’re living in the
real world,” he added, “and I think in the real world what one is looking for is not the unat-
tainable ultimate but what’s practical or do-able. I think what’s practical and do-able is the
concept of the Three R’ (Reduction of the number of animals used in research, Refinement
of methods to require use of fewer animals, and Replacement of methods that use animals
with methods which don’t). I don’t believe that there’s anyone who can rationally or reason-
ably make a dent in the concept of the Three R’s,” Spira said, setting this principle as his
basis for a new “contract” with the biomedical research community. “The reality is that if
this were implemented across the board, there would be an enormous reduction in the use of
animals, and then for those remaining, efforts could be made to reduce their pain and dis-
tress, and work toward quality of life…At that point it would make sense to me to shift sub-
stantial resources and energies over to the farm animal arena, where there are billions of
animals suffering,” compared with an estimated 20 million animals in all forms of biomed-
ical research, testing, and teaching.
Here’s the deal, Spira was saying. If biomedical researchers make a genuine
good-faith effort to adopt the Three R’s as a governing principle of conduct, we’ll back off
from confrontation and give you time and space to satisfy your requirements of validity,
accuracy, and efficacy––and to adopt change with dignity, as your own idea. There are
bigger issues we all need to work on. We don’t need to get bogged down in the sort of end
less hostility and polarization that has thwarted progress and diverted resources, yours and
ours, for far too long. As antivivisectionists, we are abolitionists, but we don’t need to be
fundamentalists. We don’t need to see anyone smited, cast into hell, and/or forced to
repent and recant. We just want to see serious, honest, open progress toward a mutually
acceptable common goal, which can and should exist.
Spira didn’t just postulate such a deal as a hypothetical possibility. He made a
point of saluting those whom he believes have already signed on. “Procter & Gamble,
Hoffmann-LaRoche, Colgate, and Bristol-Myers Squibb have been particularly noteworthy
in this regard,” he said. “In addition to reducing their use of animals, they’re also been
rather aggressive in changing the culture of their science departments. Some have been
active in the public policy arena, interacting with regulatory agencies and the international
regulatory community to get them to accept some reduction or replacement. It’s enormously
encouraging,” Spira acknowledged, “that some of the superstars in toxicology have placed
their reputations on the line, publicly stating that some traditional, routine tests serve no
purpose in protecting human health and the environment, and should be abolished.”
The FBR Newsletter editors pointed out that, “Some of these very companies are
getting bashed by animal rights groups. What do you say,” they asked, “if you are talking
to another company, one considering changing its policy, when they see that other compa-
nies have done so and yet continue to be targeted?”
Returned Spira, “There’s no way to guarantee that they’re not going to get bashed.
On the other hand, if they do get bashed, they’re in the best position in the public arena to
defend their record.”
Fundamentalists will continue to demand impractical absolutes, immediate
response, and unlikely abject surrenders. The rest of us, however, will accept ongoing
authentic effort.
We salute the wisdom and courage of both Henry Spira and the Foundation for
Biomedical Research in undertaking this unprecedented exchange. We may be a long way
yet from forming an alliance between the biomedical research and animal protection com-
munities to implement the Three R’s, but the opportunity may exist, at last, to reduce the
level of rhetoric and sometimes incendiary action that has divided our respective communi-
ties into armed camps––and then subdivided the camps into factions quarreling in bitter des-
peration over who is most dedicated to waging ceaseless holy war. And make no mistake
about it: the factionalism among the pro-vivisection groups is quite as nasty as it is on our
side of the issue, where one regional antivivisection organization recently threatened to boy-
cott ANIMAL PEOPLE because we carried an advertisement from another organization
whose raison-d’etre is not antivivisection per se, but rather “only” promoting the Three R’s.
We support dialog, not only on the vivisection issue but on all topics of concern.
Toward furthering dialog, reducing tensions, refining contentious generalities to resolvable
specifics, and replacing acrimony with real discussion, we may if opportunity permits do
just as FBR Newsletter did, interviewing people whom many of our readers may consider to
be “the enemy.” Concerning vivisection, for instance, we would be keenly interested in
interviewing former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, a vivisectionist and militant
vivisection defender whose recent public statements have nonetheless indicated agreement
with those of us who believe preventive medicine––diet and exercise––is where we can
make the most progress on behalf of public health. We know we won’t agree with every-
thing Koop has to say, just as we don’t agree with everything many antivivisectionists say
(and sometimes don’t agree with anything some say). We also know that effective dialog
begins with listening, and that even in the rant of an aggressive opponent there is often an
opening to constructive exchange.
Our opinion pages and advertising columns are open to everyone working to help
animals in an honest way. We don’t demand purity or conformity or “political correctness”
of anyone. As Spira put it to the FBR Newsletter readers, “Neither in the animal movement
nor the biomedical research community am I into the question of intent. I’m interested in
what the end result is.”
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