AIDS, Queers and Animal Rights
The moral and practical case against animal experimentation.
Am I alone in my sense of moral revulsion at the way chimpanzees are being brutally abused in the name of scientific research to combat AIDS? Is there anyone else who shares my feelings of shame at the way the lesbian and gay community, and AIDS organisations, have remained silent about the wanton cruelty of these animal experiments?
AIDS is a terrible illness. We all want to see a cure and vaccine against HIV as soon as possible. But does the end justify the means? Can it be right to remedy the suffering of people with AIDS through the deliberate infliction of suffering on other sentient species? Given our own experience of oppression, don't lesbians and gay men have a responsibility to speak out against the exploitation of animals in scientific laboratories?
Two of my closest friends have died from AIDS. I have seen first-hand the pain and anguish it causes. Indeed, it is precisely because of this first-hand knowledge of AIDS that I feel such a sense of outrage that chimpanzees are being wilfully injected with HIV and subjected to other gruesome experiments in the name of conquering AIDS.
In addition to the intense cruelty involved in many of these vivisection experiments, the animals are usually kept in the most appalling conditions. Chimpanzees which have evolved to live a roaming treetop existence in large family groups are instead isolated in tiny metal cages where they barely have enough room to turn around.
This solitary confinement is itself a form of gross maltreatment. It results in stress and anxiety for the animals concerned and leads to psychological disorders and physical ill-health.
Even prior to their imprisonment in scientific laboratories, much suffering is inflicted on chimpanzees. Many are taken from the wild as infants; usually by shooting their mothers. For every chimpanzee that reaches a laboratory alive, between five and ten die during capture or later during transportation due to physical abuse, starvation or despair.
In West Africa, partly as a result of this "slave trade" in animals, chimpanzees are now an endangered species with their population today being only two percent of what it was 100 years ago.
Faced with such barbarism, it seems incumbent on the lesbian and gay community, and on people with HIV, to speak out against this AIDS-related animal research which is increasingly being justified in our name and for our alleged benefit. If we still hold true to the emancipatory ideals which inspired the modern lesbian and gay liberation movement, then we cannot possibly collude with the oppression of other species in order to deliver ourselves from the oppression of AIDS. To demand rights for ourselves as homosexuals, and as people with HIV, and then to deny the rights of other sentient creatures, would be a grotesque betrayal of the liberatory vision which has been at the heart of the struggle for lesbian and gay freedom.
The moral case for opposing AIDS-connected animal experiments, and all other forms of vivisection, closely mirrors the case for universal human rights and the rejection of other forms of oppression such as racism and homophobia.
Together with the farming of animals for food production and their exploitation for sport and entertainment, the use of animals for scientific and medical research involves a negation of their right to be spared suffering.
Like humans, other vertebrate animals are sentient beings. Endowed with a brain and nervous system, however simple and instinctive, they are nevertheless able to experience both pleasure and pain, as well as a range of basic emotions.
It is this capacity for sentience and feelings which is the common bond that unites all members of the animal kingdom and which obligates us to confer rights on other animal species and treat them with compassion. Indeed, it is this very same reasoning - the right to be spared physical and psychological suffering - which demands that discrimination on the grounds of class, gender, race and sexual orientation be abolished.
According to the animal rights philosopher, Peter Singer, the struggle for animal liberation "marks an expansion of our moral horizons beyond our own species and is thus a significant stage in the development of human ethics."
In his book, In Defence of Animals, Singer points out that at an earlier stage of human development people defined rights solely in familial and tribal terms. Those outside the family or tribe were regarded as rivals and enemies and had no rights at all.
Click here to return to the Animal Rights Index