Recently, more than 50 health organizations joined together to issue a statement to all Americans. Representing victims of cancer, diabetes, arthritis, narcolepsy, blindness, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, epilepsy, mental illness, kidney disease, Parkinson's disease, and other afflictions, these groups said: "The abandonment of animal research would be an abrogation of our primary responsibility to try to save human lives.
"Should animal research be lost to the scientific community, the victims would not be the scientists. The victims would be people: ourselves, our families, our neighbors, our fellow man."
If these organizations are right, and the facts indicate that they are, why are we witnessing the current, all-out attack on biomedical research?
And most important, what is the ethical thing for us as Americans to do?
As a biomedical scientist, I am familiar with the suffering inflicted by disease on both people and animals. I have worked beside men and women who unselfishly devote their lives to the struggle against disease.
I have also met many of the activists who are unfairly attacking medical research.
The current attack on biomedical research is clearly part of a broader animal rights agenda that includes eliminating using animals for food, clothing, education and recreation. Animal rights activists do not seem eager to clearly differentiate between their philosophy and the more accepted animal welfare position.
Animal welfare is a longstanding, mainstream position that requires us to treat animals humanely and even to conduct research to prevent animal diseases and threats of extinction.
The animal rights philosophy is extreme, starting with the position that humans and animals have equivalent rights: "A rat is a pig, is a dog, is a boy," Ingrid Newkirk of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has said. This position seems to prohibit animal husbandry, agriculture (which requires control of animal populations), and the construction of homes, churches, factories, schools and other buildings (which destroy animal habitat).
Everyone should understand the fundamental difference in the two philosophies before supporting the animal rights groups in any way.
What has been achieved by biomedical research is impressive, and what lies ahead is truly astounding--if we do not allow the animal rights activists to destroy our research institutions.
The misrepresentations directed against research include "it is cruel," and "it is not necessary." In truth, animal research is critically important for effective medical practice and progress.
If we do not protect biomedical research from its attackers, we and future generations will be deprived of needed advances.
Vaccines alone, including those for preventing polio, measles, diphtheria, hepatitis, rabies and other devastating diseases, have prevented immeasurable suffering by hundreds of millions of people, pets and livestock.
Antibiotics, anti-cancer drugs, insulin, blood-pressure control agents, anesthetics, anti-inflammatory medications, cardiac pacemakers and other advances have likewise served us and the animal kingdom.
Yet we still need additional vaccines, especially to combat viruses and parasites that each year rob millions of people and animals of life, vision and comfort. We need more information on the prevention and cure of devastating genetic disorders, cancer, mental diseases and the diseases of old age.
The medical advances of the past century can be exceeded in the next century only if we are committed to that course.