Reflections About Animal Rights

  David Wahlberg’s “Monkeys Play Key Role in Alzheimer’s Research” is misleading.  Amazing how metaphoric language can deceive.  No, those chimpanzees do not “play a role”; they are drawn into that experiment without consent.  Wahlberg says that they are “being called up” and that they are “recruits.”  Not so.  They have no opinion in the matter, and they are certainly not volunteers.  But is that a problem when we try to do so much good in improving the human situation?

 A key issue at stake here is how to draw the borders of the moral community.  Who is entitled to special moral consideration?  And who may be used purely instrumentally?  One way to draw that border is to use the characteristic “human.”  In other words, cells as long as they are human cells—including stem cells and zygotes—are worthy of moral protection to some people.  On those grounds, the transgenic monkeys deserve special moral protection, “transgenic” implying that they now have sufficient human genetic material to have crossed the gene-line between humans and monkeys. 

 On the other hand, some might argue that human beings deserve special moral protection since they are sufficiently intelligent to experience suffering while being aware of a future and a past in which that suffering takes place.  But on those grounds, what Lary Walker is doing is also suspect since chimpanzees are well researched now.  I recommend the Friends of Washoe web-site at http://www.cwu.edu/~cwuchci/index.html for information about Washoe, who had learned signing and has signed at one time, “The moon is beautiful tonight,” and “I am sad; my mother died.”  Generally, one gives chimpanzees credit for having rudiments of culture, a relatively sophisticated use of creative thinking in using tools, and the average intelligence of a 5-year-old human. 

 I also recommend visiting the web-site of Koko, the gorilla. She, too, has learned signing and has been diagnosed to have an IQ of 90.  I recommend a visit at http://www.koko.org/ to find out more.  Indonesians refer to Orangutans as “the forest people”; researchers even have found out that Orangutans know rudiments of pharmaceutical uses of herbs and have an awareness of human languages.  [A report on GermanTV via GlobeCast gave evidence of both.  If you read German, I recommend http://www.zdf.de/ZDFde/inhalt/29/0,1872,2067901,00.html for more about these amazing cousins.]  On the grounds, then, of intelligence, we have sufficient evidence to include the great apes into a community with special moral privilege.  So, on all counts of contemporary moral reflection, Lary Walker’s experiments are not something one should calmly justify.

 The instrumentalization and reification of our cousins, the great apes, is morally abhorrent; I suspect and I hope that the Lary Walkers of this world will look back on themselves in a few decades with considerable self-loathing.  The FAQ page of Bath and Body Works at http://www.bathandbodyworks.com/index.jsp [click “about us” and then “FAQ”] has it right: “What is your policy regarding animal testing?  We believe all living creatures deserve respect and would never think of testing any of our products on animals. Likewise, we don't ask anyone who may be helping us develop or make our products to conduct these kinds of tests on our behalf.”