VIVISECTION: The Horror Continues
By Dr. Lorin Swinehart
“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That is the problem.” —Winnie-the-Pooh
Long ago, in the 1970’s, CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite reported the US military’s plans to use beagle hound puppies as guinea pigs in nerve gas experiments, a plan that sparked outrage among animal welfare groups and dog lovers across the spectrum, prompting Senator Hubert Humphrey to introduce legislation to forestall the practice. The world could heave a huge sigh of relief. Well, not necessarily. The human propensity for cruelty seems to be without limit, and, like the many headed Hydra of Greek myth, when one issue is resolved, another rears its ugly head.
When the subject of vivisection, animal experimentation, arises, more troubling images than that of lab rats scampering about in Skinner boxes come to mind. Rather, the term recalls dark tales of bunnies trapped in head braces while the corrosive ingredients in cosmetics are sprayed into their helpless eyes, all in the interest of providing one more facade with which to adorn or exaggerate the visages of the dissipated and the vapid. Perhaps dark tales of monkeys bolted into Stryker chairs while their skullcaps were removed and replaced by electrodes in order to somehow better understand the functions of the brain haunt one’s nightmares.
The history of man’s treatment of his fellow creatures is an ugly study, with the outrages in the Roman arenas perhaps occupying center stage. In more recent times, in his attempts to discredit Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison electrocuted large numbers of cats and dogs, even a horse, in order to prove that his favored DC current was safer than his rival’s AC current. Edison even paid small boys to capture stray dogs for his experiments.
Most horrendous was his connivance in the electrocution of a tragically abused elephant named Topsy, who was roasted by 6000 volts of electric current before an audience of thousands. One wonders what would motivate an audience to view such a grisly sight. Perhaps we have not evolved beyond Rome’s policy of providing a daily diet of “bread and circuses” for the frenzied, mindless masses.
One would like to believe that such horrors remain in the past, that enlightened legislation and modern means of investigation and enforcement have put an end to such outrages. Nothing however, can ever be taken for granted. It has recently been reported that the Veterans Administration is engaged in invasive neurological experiments on live dogs. Sections of the dogs’ brains are surgically removed in order to experiment with neurons that control respiration. After the completion of such procedures, the dogs’ agonies are ended by lethal injection.
Other tests involve the use of electrodes attached to dogs’ spinal cords in order to understand cough reflexes before and after the cords have been severed. Some experiments involve stimulating artificial heart rhythms while the animals are forced to run on a treadmill after pacemakers have been installed. Afterward, the dogs are killed by injection, or, more in the tradition of Count Dracula, their blood is drained from them.
Paralyzed Veterans of America now supports legislation introduced by Representative Dina Titus, D-Nevada, and Representative David Brat, R-Virginia, to end the practice. The House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation to defund the project, but, like many good things, it remains stalled in the US Senate.
While some officials in the VA attempt to justify such macabre activities as necessary to the development of new treatments for veterans suffering from spinal cord injuries that affect respiration, many veterans themselves oppose the practice, citing the cruel irony of treating the very same creatures that they rely upon as service animals in such an abominable way. Sherman Gillums, Jr., the chief strategy officer at American Veterans, has stated that dog experiments no longer produce medical advances for humans.
A photograph published in the November 2 edition of USA Today, showing the VA laboratory in Richmond, Virginia where these procedures are reputed to take place recalls the scenes of pain and terror perpetrated by Nazi “Angel of Death” Dr. Joseph Menguele and all the apparatus of a cruel and odious science unrestrained by any humanitarian or ethical concerns.
Like serial killers who begin their careers by tormenting and killing small animals before working their way up to their fellow men, perhaps societies, too, pave the way for holocausts and wars of aggression by feigning ignorance, denial, acquiescence or false optimism when confronted by the brutal realities of slaughter houses and animal laboratories.
In his celebrated volume God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, C.S. Lewis observes, “The victory of vivisection marks a great advance in the triumph of ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism over the old world of ethical law; a triumph in which we, as well as animals, are already victims, and of which Dachau and Hiroshima mark the most recent achievements. In justifying cruelty to animals we put ourselves also on the animal level. We choose the jungle and must abide by our choice.”
Perhaps it can be argued that modern medical and surgical techniques, including those in veterinary medicine, would not exist without animal experimentation. Yet, while VA spokesmen argue that such breakthroughs as a cardiac pacemaker and successful liver transplants have resulted from dog experiments, the VA’s own website traces those tests to fifty years ago.
The controversy involves man’s basic confusion regarding our relationship with our fellow creatures. There are some that we regard with fear and revulsion—rats, sidewinders, black widows—and others that we consider only as sources of food or clothing. Some, like man’s oldest best friend and helper, we love. Can we, as Lewis suggests, reduce such creatures to the level of mere objects of our convenience, even as machines, and do so without demeaning ourselves.
One cannot but wonder if the intended victims of this latest scientific horror meet their torturers with a wag of the tail, a paw extended in friendship, perhaps a lick of the tongue on the hand that plans to return the greeting with needless agony and death. Perhaps such actions fail to move the hearts of the soulless ghouls who routinely perpetrate such crimes against nature. Should this latest outrage come as any surprise as the world rushes onward toward a mechanistic, nightmare future?
Ed. Note: There was an error in the last paragraph of Lorin’s The New Madrid Earthquake column in the December issue. The Treaty of Ghent, signed on Christmas Eve, 1814, ended the War of 1812, not the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War. It was my mistake, not the writer’s.
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