The Advancement of Medicine by Research

HENRY P. BOWDITCH
1896 Boston Medical and Surgical Journal  
Professor of Physiology in the Harvard Medical School. (Concluded from No. 24, p. 581.) Admitting then that there is no abstract reason why animals should not suffer for the benefit of man, it remains to be considered whether we have a " right to constitute ourselves administrators of this law of vicarious suffering and to apply it to animals for our own interest." The right of man to inflict pain upon the lower animals for his own benefit has never been very distinctly formulated. Our
more » ... lated. Our relations to the wild denizens of the forest, field and stream are very largely an inheritance from those times when our savage ancestors disputed with tho lower animals for the right to exist on the face of the earth. In fact, they do not differ materially, except in degree of complication, from the relation of the lion to the lamb or the hawk to the dove. In the words of the author of "the above-mentioned work on "Physiological Cruelty": "It is generally admitted that we may chase aud kill an animal, often necessarily with much pain, not because its life and liberty interferes with ours, but because its death will render our life more complete, perhaps in the most trivial detail. We kill them (without anesthetics), not only that we may have food and clothing, but that the food may be varied and attractive and the clothing may be rich and beautiful. We subject them to painful mutilations in order to make them more manageable for service, to improve the flavor of their flesh, and even to please our whimsical fancies. We imprison them iu cages aud zoological gardens, to improve our knowledge of natural history or merely to amuse ourselves by looking at them. It is abundantly clear that in all our customary dealings with animals we apply to them without Bcruple the law of sacrifice, and interpret it with a wide latitude in our own favor. ... So far, the general principle of dealing with animals which is in a vague way accepted by most humane persons . . . seems to be that we may kill, inconvenience or pain them, for any benefit, convenience or pleasure to ourselves, but that the pain must be within moderate limits (of course undefined), and that it must form no element iu our pleasure." Now the point to be especially emphasized in this connection is that physiologists, in experimenting with living organisms, cause an amount of suffering utterly insignificant compared with that which animals are called upon to endure in other ways and that the suffering thus caused is inflicted with a motive and with an expectation of benefit quite adequate to justify the infliction of a much greater amount of pain than even the most serious operations in the laboratory can be supposed to produce. In this respect the physiologist stands, it seems to me, on higher moral ground than that occupied by most persons whoso occupation leads them to sacrifice animal life. Compare, for instance, the occupation of a sportsman with that of a physiologist. It is difficult to imagine how an animal such as a deer or a rabbit can be made to endure greater physical agony than in 1 The Annual Discourse before the Massachusetts Medical Society, delivered at the One Hundred and Fifteenth Anniversary, June 10, 1896. being hunted to death by hounds. It is hard to conceive of animal suffering more entirely out of proportion to the object sought aud gained by it than that produced by the average sportsman whenever he fires a charge of shot into a flock of birds, since, for every bird actually killed, several more will probably be wounded and, escaping with brokeu limbs, fall an easy prey to their enemies or perish from starvation. Yet we inflict this suffering, not because we need the animal for food, not because its existence interferes in any way with our own, not because we expect to derive any permanent benefit from its destruction, but simply, as the word "sport" implies, because we are in search of amusement and the sufferings of the animal are incidentally associated with our enjoyment of the moment. It must not be supposed that I desire to bring the charge of cruelty against sportsmen, for, of course, the fact that the animal suffers paiu forms no part of the pleasure of the hunter ; nor do I overlook the great benefit which the sportBinau derives incidentally from his pursuit in tho acquirement of health, strength and skill. I merely wish to point out, first, that as far as the charge of cruelty is concerned, the physiologist may claim the same exemption which is accorded to the sportsman, for, so far from enjoying the sufferings of the animals on which he experiments, it is his constant object to reduce those Bufferings to a minimum; aud, secondly, that with regard to a justification for the infliction of pain, the advantage is on the side of the physiologist, for the desire to enlarge the bounds of human knowledge and to fix firmly the foundations of the healing art must be regarded as a higher motive than the wish to secure one's own temporary amusement, aud, moreover, the proportion between the benefit obtained and the paiu inflicted is much larger iu physiological experimentation than iu the vocation of the sportsman. In this connection it is interesting to contrast the fate of the victims of science with that of similar animals living in a state of nature. In doing this we are struck by the vast amount of animal suffering which the lawB of nature necessitate. The weak are inevitably the victims of the strong. The chain of destruction extends throughout the animal creation, and every link involves the death of victims under circumstances which from a human point of view seem those of revolting cruelty. The cat plays with the mouse, apparently enjoying its terror and distress. The butcherbird impales its living victims on the thorns of the locust tree, thus laying up in its hideous larder a store of food often far beyond its needs. The larger carnívora tear their living prey limb from limb. Iu fact the relations of auimals to each other are such as to fully justify, from a moral standpoint, an indictment for cruelty against Nature herself. With regard to domestic animals the case is often not much better. The vagrant cur and the prowling cat lead a life of constant terror, eking out a miserable existence amongst piles of garbage, aud dying finally, when physical strength fails, from sheer starvation. Compared with misery like this the fate of the chosen victim of science may well be regarded as enviable, for once within the laboratory precincts warmth and abundant food are assured and, though the term of life is shortened, its closing scene is often absolutely painless and is, iu any case, likely to be attended with less suffering than a so-called natural death. With regard to physiological experiments which \u
doi:10.1056/nejm189606181342501 fatcat:6cnxlkn4fnfbrefb4ihwqj53yq