The Anti-Vivisection Coalition’s Director of Communications tells of how learning the true nature of medical research made her realise that it’s not just the general public who are left in the dark about vivisection.
Around this time five years ago I walked through the doors of Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge and began what I thought would be my career as a healthcare professional. I worked faithfully in a system that I respected, for a National Health Service that I trusted, that we’re all supposed to trust in. I was caring for sick people when they needed it, nursing them to health and doing what I thought was right. My Mum had done it, and people admired it. Nothing wrong with that you’d think. Think again.
It wasn’t until early 2013, when I was introduced to the concept of animal rights by the lovely people at my local group Animal Rights Cambridge, that I fully began to learn of the true horrors that form the foundations of the healthcare industry. And I call it an industry because that’s what it is. People being in poor health is lucrative. The pursuit for drug discovery is a multi-billion pound business that has seen giant pharmaceutical and research & development corporations catapulted to commercial and financial success. And this ‘success’ is predominantly based on one, unthinkable, terrible thing: animal research. Every drug, dressing, procedure, piece of medical equipment and chemical used on patients has, quite legally, gone through rigorous, cruel and largely secret research on non-human animals. Millions of living beings are subjected to the worst pain, suffering, confinement and death imaginable every year. Dogs, cats, rabbits, mice, monkeys, pigs, rats, sheep and other species are bred, used and exterminated here, in the UK, in the race to develop drugs and treatments. And that race is not the noble quest for public health that it appears to be on the surface. Many treatments are geared towards diet-related chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancers. If the Government really wanted these gone, they would address the critical nature of public overconsumption of carcinogenic and toxic meat, dairy and eggs rather than supporting the industries and companies that profit from it. Animal exploitation goes beyond just using them for research, it is ingrained into a society that sees fit to abuse animals in many other areas: food, clothing, entertainment, work and sport. Only when we can apply the same level of outrage felt at the atrocities that go on in laboratories to the wider issue of animal exploitation, can we progress to being a truly compassionate nation.
The National Health Service is actually quite the opposite: a National Ill-health Service. Since the 1940s, medicine has historically had a curative – not preventative – approach to health. It is supported by scientists who appear more interested in advancing their own acclaim than helping the wider population. And these scientists are disconsertingly protective of their ‘right’ to abuse and use other species to further this interest. Concepts such as ‘reduction, refinement and replacement’ are so difficult to quantify and audit that they have become PR buzzwords to justify the continued use of animals, and to reassure the public that scientists’ work using the animal model is that of integrity, necessity and of benefit to human health. Time after time, we are learning that this is far from the truth.
So, when I asked colleagues in the hospital if they knew the actual nature of medical research I received one of two answers. Those in the know: scientists, doctors, research nurses etc. were subtly dismissive of the question, not wanting to taint their working day by discussing an uncomfortable subject. However, those who did not know anything about it reacted with shock and disbelief.
When I told them that Home Office figures from 2012 state that, in Cambridge alone, 135,000 animals lost their lives at the hands of researchers (that’s 369 every day), they were mortified. Some tried to justify it in their minds – “it’s alright if it’s for medicine, isn’t it?”. Then I would ask them if they wanted to see footage from inside laboratories. Would they then be prepared to watch monkeys having parts of their skulls and brains removed whilst awake and restrained? Beagle dogs foaming at the mouth during fatal seizures from toxicology testing? Pregnant cats being sliced open and their foetuses forcefully removed then dipped into fixative to kill them and preserve their little unformed bodies to anatomical perfection? Would they be happy to watch hundreds of thousands of mice and rats having their necks broken when they are no longer ‘useful’? Could they watch baboons being tied to a rack and slammed into a metal block to give them car-crash simulated brain damage? And of course, the breeding industry attached to this atrocity is also a hugely unknown reality. Large secure units keep female animals prisoner, forcing them to churn out litter after litter of young to be snatched away and sent to their deaths in laboratories. The pull of motherhood felt by these animals, and the gloved hands that rip their babies away knowing their fate – could they then justify this for medical science?
I truly believe that the reason most healthcare professionals are not afforded insight into this secret world is that the horrors of it would, as in my case, taint their willingness to be involved. The illusion that they could still be animal lovers whilst caring for humans in hospital would quite rightly be shattered. That the science sector has garnered so much protection, enforced secrecy and billions of pounds in grants from the Government tells us that, in no uncertain terms, the public are not supposed to know what goes on behind closed laboratory doors. The shiny, neat little packets of pills that are churned out into society in their millions are a far cry from the suffering, pain, fear and death from which they are built. The money generated from the pharmaceutical industry alone is enough to keep our Government happy. The University institutions that commit so many terrible atrocities to our animal friends do so predominantly for individual gain. PhDs and Professorships that use animals for their progress are gathered by means of torture. It cannot, and should not, be glamourised or sensitised as anything different. Thank goodness for the brave men and women who enter these establishments as undercover investigators, helping leak the horrors out into the public domain, the press, and force Government enquiries. To me, they are true heroes. Brave enough to bare witness to atrocities and injustices so terrible, yet remaining sufficiently composed to be able to function, bring the truth out into the world and not speak about it to friends and family. This is a remarkable feat, and a terrific burden. It is clear to me that the more we lift the lid on this awful practice, the more we will gather public support and understanding.
That’s why I am so grateful to the Anti-Vivisection Coalition for the work they do. As a recently-formed organisation here in the UK, they have a niche in the campaigning world, encompassing both professional and grassroots approaches. One day they may be lobbying members of parliament, drawing up Government charters, investigating the legal position of institutions, and the next you will see them on the streets reaching out to the public, and holding increasing demonstrations at offices, Universities and laboratories that are involved in these offenses. They have goals, both attainable and absolute, and are focusing on bringing people into, not repelling them from, the animal movement.
I am proud to be involved with the AVC, and look forward to helping it grow into an organisation to be reckoned with, that uses its head as well as its heart, its intellect as well as its passion. My position as Director of Communications is both exciting and challenging, and I look forward to building connections with activists, members of the public, the media, University groups, and compassionate corporations across the country. As long as animal research takes place, AVC will be increasing the pressure on these institutions whilst spreading the compassionate message and truth to the public. Together we can work strategically, methodically and passionately, towards an end to the unacceptable suffering that goes on in UK laboratories.
Director of Communications, AVC