Friday, July 22, 2005

Here’s what the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wanted you to see this week: two Playboy Playmates — clad only in lettuce — handing out vegetarian hot dogs on Capitol Hill Wednesday as cameras clicked away.

Here’s what PETA didn’t want you to see: two PETA employees attending a court hearing Tuesday in North Carolina on charges they killed and dumped 31 cats and dogs in a shopping center’s trash bins. While the court case is pending, the controversy swirling around PETA and associated animal rights extremists, is again Page One news.

Veterinarian clinics and animal shelters turned the pets over to PETA in hopes they could be adopted. Instead, they were killed by an organization dedicated to “ethical” treatment of animals.

It’s just another example of the misguided agenda, and hypocrisy, of the animal rights movement. It’s a campaign that affects not only PETA and its supporters, but hurts each and every one of us.

In our 21st-century world of wonder drugs and lightning-fast advances in medical technology, we live longer, healthier lives than ever. Every day, researchers in hospitals, universities and — yes — private corporations like pharmaceutical companies, come closer and closer to curing, or at least postponing death from, such scourges as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and mental illness. Like it or not, much of this progress is achieved by testing cures on animals and not because the men and women working for such companies are cruel people. They do this because they view life as precious, devote their professional lives to preserve it, and because federal law mandates and regulates it.

On the other hand, we have the extreme wing of the animal rights movement, often operating behind the shield of its more recognized visage — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA. These folks believe there can never be any justification for animal testing. If achieving their goal means humans must suffer, then inflicting needless pain, trauma, grief and death on people is merely a necessary means to a worthwhile end. And, a report by the Anti-Defamation League — hardly a bastion of extreme conservatism — says radical environmental and animal-rights groups have wreaked more than $100 million in damage over the past two decades.

I’ll begin with a disclaimer. I like animals. Playing fetch with our chocolate Lab or watching her frolic with our grandchildren are activities I enjoy greatly. That said, I also love people. As ethical and moral creatures, we have a responsibility to care for and show compassion for all creatures of the Earth. But we also have a duty to protect our fellow human beings, which includes working to find cures for pain, suffering and disease.

However, to extreme animal-rights advocates, researchers who work to this end are not brave scientists fighting to cure disease, but greedy degenerates who cut corners and torture animals for little or no public benefit.

To show how wildly inaccurate these assumptions are, let’s review some facts. First, research labs using animals are extensively regulated. Agencies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the National Institutes of Health regularly conduct surprise site visits, and no lab director would risk losing funding — or subjecting themselves to possible criminal jeopardy — by flunking an inspection. Further, major labs employ licensed veterinarians to safeguard the animals’ health.

Another argument often bandied about by animal-rights activists over a decaf latte in a “Fair Trade” coffee shop turns on the ludicrous claim animal research makes no real contribution to saving lives. Examples to the contrary could fill an encyclopedia, but let’s look at just one — diabetes.

Before scientists discovered insulin treatments, there was little more they could do for severe diabetics than send them home to die. However, by injecting animals with insulin, they learned to manage the disease, greatly enhancing quality of life and saving an immeasurable number of human lives. Ironically, that same knowledge now allows pets to receive insulin injections, saving the lives of dogs and other domesticated animals.

Given this reality, there can only be one argument from animal-rights activists: Human lives are worth less than animal lives. If you don’t believe the animal rights movement’s radical fringes actually think this way, look at what they actually do.

After bombing the offices of a California company in 2003, animal rights extremists sent an e-mail claiming responsibility. Among other things, it said, “You never know when your house, your car even, might go boom … or maybe it will be a shot in the dark.” Terroristic threats don’t come any clearer.

The message here — often repeated by the lunatic fringe of animal-rights terrorism — is that experimenting on animals is an offense punishable by death. In other words, animal lives must be protected, even if it means sacrificing human lives.

In the final analysis, the logic applied to terminally ill patients is no different. To the animal-rights movement, these humans should meekly accept early deaths to preserve animals’ lives.

Every year, efforts are made to encourage Congress to restrict or stop animal research. At the end of the day, reasonable regulations under which animal research is conducted are justified and necessary. But, any member who votes to end it must do so knowing a certain number of human beings, including some of their constituents, will suffer and die because of their decision to put animals first at any cost.

The cats and dogs dumped in a trash bin deserved better. So do humans.

Bob Barr, a former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia, is a columnist for United Press International.

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