Animals – with great certainty, mammals like cats, dogs, monkeys, pigs and so on – are conscious, feeling beings. Only the least intelligent human, or one completely unfamiliar with the company of animals, can argue otherwise with a straight face. Animals use language, tools and create domiciles; they express emotion, they will sacrifice themselves for their offspring, and they can learn.
They, in many ways similar to human babies, are unable, for lack of sophistication, to consent to risk taking. They don’t have the potential to turn into the kind of advanced being a human baby does; nonetheless, they do think, they do feel, they do suffer. As any human with any reasonable degree of insight can tell you, imposed suffering without any degree of understanding why leads directly to even more suffering and deeper fear. Therefore, it is wholly unethical to subject them to risk (or certainty) of suffering via coercion; further, it is selfish and cowardly to do so for the benefit of yourself or those you value.
If you want to test a drug, a foodstuff, a shampoo, a surgical procedure, a space launch, etc., then by all means, do so. After exhausting the mathematical, chemical, electrical and mechanical means to explore risk, get yourself a group of volunteers (by definition human), explain the risks as you know them, detail the extent of the unknowns, lay out the odds as they are known prior to the trial and offer something equitable in return for the risk taking; account for the possible types of consequence and be prepared to honorably and sufficiently deal with them. If you can’t gather adequate test subjects for an issue, document that issue as untested and leave it to the liberty of the consumer to decide if they want to enter into an uncompensated risk.
The fact is, there are always risks; no amount of testing – animal or otherwise – can possibly account for individuals with immune system responses that were not in the test set; for toxic combinations with other substances; for mental states near pathological avalanche. The number of permutations and combinations is beyond any possible address. No argument against human testing based upon risk is therefore of significant weight.
Concrete examples: Ibuprofin, which most people can consume in recommended doses, closes my throat, produces a bright red bloom across my chest, makes my heart race and my ears ring. I took this as sufficient warning not to consume any further Ibuprofen. Kiwi and Mango also produce very unpleasant effects if I consume them. Which, of course, I found out… by consuming them. I went to use my emergency brake the other day and found out – the very hard way – that a rock or other road hazard had snapped off the cable attachment to my brake assembly. Or perhaps it simply failed.
These are similar to the risks any consumer takes, every time they consume or use a product, every time they undertake a task, every time they utilize a mechanism, no matter how simple or how complex. Risk cannot be eliminated, but it can be comprehended – by humans. Not by animals.
Our intelligence is such that it can put us in the position of wards, not torturers; of ecological managers, not bloody-toothed carnivores; of protectors, not despotic killers and collectors of stuffed heads. When your beliefs and convictions lead you to lean towards the latter positions, you have abandoned your honor, and you have put a violent and bewildered wall in the way of some of the most important insights your humanity offers you.
In the great tradition of liberty, one’s right to swing ends where another’s nose begins. However, one’s right to swing arises full blooded and honorable when someone else’s swing impacts an innocent nose – and it need not be your nose; else how does the right to protect a baby from coercion and violence to its senses arise? Will you argue against the right to protect a baby from force, using force?
The step from there to protecting animals from force, using force, is a very small one as soon as one accepts the objective facts: Animals broadly think, feel, emote, reason, and much more, very much as babies do; and that the only value of a baby is not its future potential. While I would be (just barely) inclined to accept arguments to the contrary from 19th century and earlier personages who suffered from scientific ignorance on the one hand, and incredible religious pressure on the other (but I repeat myself), science and long social experience with various animals in the role of protected family members have absolutely destroyed arguments to the contrary in the last century. Today no one has such an excuse; all they have are rationalizations, quite poor ones.
It is very difficult for me to consider it less than justice when the outraged decide to retaliate against those who choose to inflict suffering upon the innocent. Especially considering the abject failures of our legal system in this area.
As for freeing animals stocked as victims of this type of barbarism, I have absolutely no problem with it, nor with destruction of or damage to property to any degree necessary in pursuit of that specific goal.