(RNS) — This week, right-wing Twitter expressed its concern for beagles subjected to fly bites in experiments erroneously attributed to the National Institutes of Health scientists, in what looks like a coordinated hit job against Anthony Fauci.
As off-kilter as their deeply felt moral judgment was, the serious question coming out of the flap is this: Have conservatives, who in response to many issues raised about animal protection often respond by invoking how much they like bacon, done a 180? Does this suggest hope for common ground across political differences?
Glenn Greenwald thinks so: He tweeted that “the right of sentient beings like dogs to be free of morally demented, gratuitous torture” can “unite people of all ideological beliefs and partisan affiliations.”
Color me skeptical.
I am not a fan of the current National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, and believe his dishonesty about several matters related to the pandemic has caused millions to lose faith in our public health officials. And the research being done on dogs in Tunisia is horrific.
But a fallacious personal attack on Fauci only distracts from the real problems of the federal government’s funding of research on nonhuman animals. As the animal protection group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has noted, those concerns go well beyond dogs to seven national primate research centers around the country. PETA calls for a Research Modernization Deal in which the best scientific work can be done without cruelty to our fellow creatures.
Is it too much to hope for that the New York Post, the Daily Mail, Gateway Pundit, National Review and Fox News — all of whom spread the misinformation about Fauci — actually care about dogs mistreated in laboratories? That they would invoke Greenwald’s call for common ground and work with PETA and others toward actually protecting dogs?
As I’ve written about at length, there are especially strong reasons for religious conservatives to take up the fight for animal protection. The first two chapters of the Bible’s Book of Genesis make clear that God created animals to be our companions, not our food, and not mere tools that we can use however we please.
We share the breath of life with dogs, monkeys, pigs and, yes, even rats and mice. We are protectors and stewards of God’s creation until the kingdom of God is realized in its fullness. In the meantime, the Catechism of the Catholic Church insists that part of this responsibility means that we owe animals kindness.
And as Sue Kopp and I wrote in America magazine, millions and millions of mice are now bred with a specific deadly cancer — serving merely as tools for testing drugs that target this cancer before the mice’s painful and inevitable deaths.
Pigs are bred so that their pancreas never develops, in order to test methods of organ transplantation. Scientists can now purchase “Alzheimer models” of rats from commercial laboratories. Prior to shipment, a slow-release pump system is inserted into the rat’s brain, injecting toxic compounds that mimic Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Scientists (hand in glove with Big Pharma) have been raising the stakes even higher in recent years with the rise of chimeric research on animals. Of particular interest is the development of “humanized mice” — mice that were apparently used in the gain-of-function viral research Fauci claims was not funded by the NIH. Here the idea was to use new biotechnology to give mice humanized lungs, intentionally infect them with increasingly dangerous viruses and see if we could find ways to treat them.
And, well, we ain’t seen nothing yet.
I’ve written for the National Catholic Bioethics Center on even more dramatic and disturbing chimeric biotechnologies that could soon be coming our way. Forget humanized lungs — what about humanized brains in nonhuman animals?
You read that right. I was recently invited to give testimony and to peer-review a report from the National Academy of Sciences exploring the possibility of creating nonhuman animals with human brains (or at least human frontal cortexes) — with the goal of creating better models for the study of neurodegenerative diseases. Though my presence meant that ethical questions are being asked, it looks as if this is something that may actually happen.
PETA is right about the need to find a new NIH director to replace the outgoing Francis Collins who will shut down research that violates the dignity of nonhuman animals. Bipartisan pressure, not virtue signaling, is needed to actually make it stop.
Responding to Fauci’s supposed funding of research on beagles, Republican Rep. Nancy Mace gathered an impressive bipartisan list of signatories to a letter demanding common-sense animal protection. If this is a serious moral concern, and not just political posturing, then it is time to move with energy and urgency to curtail our horrific trajectories in medical research on nonhuman animals.
Let’s go. We have (bipartisan) work to do.