Animal Rights & Wrongs

| July 18, 2015 | 0 Comments

Animal Rights & Wrongs. Pushpa Bhargava, The Times of India, June 15, 2002.

Citing inadequate care of animals, the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA) under Union minister Maneka Gandhi recently stopped animal experiments at the National Institute of Virology. Pushpa Bhargava, former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, discusses with Manjari Mahajan the implications of the CPCSEA’s growing restrictions on public research institutes and hospitals:

What is your reaction to the CPCSEA’s curbs on research institutes and hospitals? The CPCSEA closures are unscientific, irrational, unwise and not in the interest of mankind. Scientists do not experiment on animals just for fun. They use them for advancing the frontiers of knowledge, for solving human problems like those of health, nutrition and population control, and only when there are no alternatives. These closures also show a lack of knowledge of history of mankind and evolution of species. Human beings would never have evolved if they had not learned very early on how to catch and kill animals for food and self-defence. Evolution has been a battle between species for survival. If there is a question of survival of man against protection of other species, wisdom demands that we do what will help the survival of man. We should not forget that the lifespan of man has increased from around 20 years in the 19th century to close to 80 years today. This has been largely on account of advances in agriculture and medicine. These advances would not have occurred if man had not learnt to use animals for experiments to determine, for example, the dosage, bioavailability and the toxicity of drugs that are widely used by man today. If the CPCSEA wishes to be consistent, it must ban all clinical trials and the entire process of drug discovery, including trials on man — who is also an animal. If its members are truly committed, they must not use any life-saving drug discovered through animal experiments. The CPCSEA has targeted animals in scientific institutes. To be consistent, it should also ban pesticides which kill insects, which are also animals. It should ban agriculture, which requires killing of plants which are living and which share, by and large, the same chemistry and biochemistry as animals and human beings. And it must permit cockroaches free access to food.

What impact have the CPCSEA closures had on scientific projects and morale? Such moves have had a tremendously adverse impact. Some time ago, a few people illegally invading the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad and released monkeys on which Shantha Biotech’s Interferon was being tried. If this had not happened, Interferon (totally imported so far) would have been in our market at affordable prices two years ago and saved many human lives. The lobbyists of animal rights in the country are, to say the least, hypocrites. Why don’t they protest against religious traditions like Naag Panchami or Bakr Id? It is ludicrous that the CPCSEA is so concerned about cruelty to animals but totally unconcerned about cruelty to the highest of animals in the evolutionary hierarchy — that is, man. The CPCSEA has never objected to inhuman and cruel mass killing of men, women and children on numerous occasions in the country, at times with the active connivance of the government. It is ironical that some animal lovers would rather have a large number of men, women and children die of rabies on account of being bitten by stray dogs, than capture and mercifully kill such dogs.

How does one balance the need for scientific progress with the need to minimise unnecessary cruelty on other sentient species? No fixed laws can be laid out in this regard because science keeps changing, as do our cultural mores. The only guiding principle that one could lay down is that animals should not be used if an alternative exists. Scientists around the world are trying to develop such alternatives to certain kinds of animal experimentation in their own interest — for example, to cut costs and time. By and large, no serious scientist will use an animal for an experiment if it is not for the larger good of man.

Should emotional and cultural reasons for protesting against experimentation on animals be allowed to judge and control scientific and medical research? Who should judge scientific activity? If we allow cultural mores to determine research, we will consistently deny generation of new knowledge and we will retrace our path backwards into history. The scientist concerned would be the best judge of new research. There are checks in place, in the form of institutional ethics committees, the Indian Council for Medical Research and the ministry of science, to monitor the scientist’s work. The CPCSEA, however, cannot be the judge of scientific activity since its members typically have no background in science. They delay and stop research, which they don’t understand, for months and years. At a time when every minute is precious in globally competitive science, such moves dishearten scientists and push our country behind. Such obscurantism demands that we discuss not only the accountability of science but also the accountability of the CPCSEA

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