Animal Liberation author Peter Singer ires activists by calling some animal testing “justifiable”

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2006:


LONDON–Philosopher and Great Ape Project
cofounder Peter Singer, whose 1975 opus Animal
Liberation provided intellectual support to the
early animal rights movement, allegedly endorsed
biomedical research on monkeys during an
on-camera discussion with Oxford University
neurosugeon Tipu Aziz.
Aired by BBC-2 on November 27, Singer’s
remarks were previewed a day earlier by Gareth
Walsh of the London Times, under the headline
“Father of animal activism backs monkey testing.”
“I am a surgeon and also a scientist,”
Aziz told Singer. “Part of my work has been to
induce Parkinsonism in primatesŠTo date 40,000
people have been made better with [one of Aziz’s
discoveries], and worldwide at the time I would
guess only 100 monkeys were used at a few

Responded Singer, “Well, I think if you
put a case like that, clearly I would have to
agree that was a justifiable experiment. I do
not think you should reproach yourself for doing
it, provided–I take it you are the expert in
this, not me–that there was no other way of
discovering this knowledge. I could see that as
justifiable research.”
Aziz told Walsh that Singer’s remarks
show that opponents of a new primate lab at
Oxford “haven’t a case.”
Replied Oxford anti-lab campaign leader
Mel Broughton, “I would not accept that at all.”
Singer’s remarks, Broughton said, “certainly do
not represent the views of SPEAK,” Broughton’s
organization, “or the vast majority of people
who campaign against animal research.”
Commented Tom Regan, author of The Case
for Animal Rights (1983) and Empty Cages: Facing
the Challenge of Animal Rights (2004), “What
makes Singer’s opinion noteworthy is not what he
thinks, but who he is said to be. He is, we
are told, ‘The father of the modern animal
rights movement.’ Animal Liberation, we are
told, ‘is considered the Bible of the [animal
rights] movement.’ Neither inference is true.
Singer believes that consequences determine moral
right and wrong. Right actions bring about the
best consequences. Wrong actions fail to do so.
“People who believe in animal rights
could not disagree more,” Regan asserted. “The
role of basic moral rights, whomsoever’s rights
they are, is to protect individuals against the
very type of abuse so painfully illustrated by
monkey research. The basic moral rights of the
individual, the rights to life and bodily
integrity, for example, should never be
violated in the name of reaping benefits for
Rutgers University Law School professor
Gary Francione, author of Animals, Property, and
the Law (1995) and Rain Without Thunder: The
Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement (1996),
told National Review columnist Wesley J. Smith
that, “It simply doesn’t matter what Singer
said…I suspect that other than possibly causing
[PETA founder Ingrid] Newkirk to announce an ‘I’d
rather go naked than have Parkinson’s’ campaign
to further fill PETA’s coffers, and my getting
hate mail from ‘animal rights’ people who think I
am a heretic for criticizing Singer, nothing
much will happen.”
Responded Singer to his critics,
“Neither in Animal Liberation, nor anywhere
else, have I ever said that no experiments on
animals could ever be justifiable. My position
has always been that whether an act is right or
wrong depends on its consequences. I do insist,
however, that the interests of animals count
among those consequences, and that we cannot
justify speciesism, which I define as giving less
weight to the interests of nonhuman animals than
we give to the similar interests of human beings.
“In Animal Liberation,” Singer
continued, “I suggested that a test for whether
a proposed experiment on animals is justifiable
is whether the experimenter would be prepared to
carry out the experiment on human beings at a
similar mental level–say, those born with
irreversible brain damage. If Professor Aziz is
not prepared to say that he would think such
experiments justifiable, his willingness to use
animals is based on a prejudice against giving
their interests the same weight as he gives to
the interests of members of our own species.
“Whether or not the occasional experiment
on animals is defensible,” Singer added, “I
remain opposed to the institutional practice of
using animals in research, because, despite some
improvements over the past thirty years, that
practice still fails to give equal consideration
to the interests of animals. For that reason I
oppose putting more resources into building new
facilities for animal experimentation. Instead,
these funds should go into clinical research
involving consenting patients, and into
developing other methods of research that do not
involve the harmful use of animals.”

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