Today, we wonder: should we kill an animal to save
a human? The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
A stray dog attached herself
to me last week. That's the sixth stray we've
picked up in as many years. She's a beautiful
Labrador/German Shepherd mix. She's the last thing
in the world we need -- and utterly irresistible.
What a soft touch!
Now a friend from the biology department sits at my
lunch table. "John," he says, "Can't you say
something on the air about using animals in the
lab? The antivivisectionists are doing us in. We'll
never cure cancer and AIDS at this rate."
"I can't stand seeing animals hurt," I say. "Yeah,
me too," he answers, "my wife and I belong to the
SPCA." This is no kid trying to get famous by
hacking up monkeys. He's my age. He wants only to
do the right thing while he has time. I take him
Meanwhile, animal lovers -- people a lot like me --
have broken into animal research labs. They've
wrecked equipment, harassed researchers, and
distorted the truth. They've painted research
doctors as the kind of cold-blooded killers who
enjoy pulling wings off flies -- when they're not
doing worse things at work. The costs of litigation
and security have run the price of research up by
hundreds of millions of dollars.
Most of the animals are rats -- 85 or 90 percent.
Less than two percent are cats, dogs, and monkeys.
We're happy enough to see rats killed in the name
of pest control. Then we're horrified to see them
killed in the name of science.
Dogs are especially suited to blood flow research.
My stray dog, running with the angular grace of a
young horse, could well have ended in someone's lab
if she hadn't found me. I think of her with her
chest open -- doctors injecting blood into her
heart to learn its elastic properties. She wouldn't
be in pain. But she wouldn't live to tell about it,
Still, when I'm sick, I take medicine that was
tested on animals. Already, I'd go after anyone who
tried to hurt my stray dog. Yet I eat the meat of
much larger animals.
My friend's face creases with concern. "The animal
activists are winning. We'll never cure anything if
this keeps up."
I'll credit activists with creating a huge
sensitivity to cruelty. If many scientists were
once careless and callous, far fewer are today. I
wouldn't want the activist voice silenced. Neither
would I want to see it victorious.
Seventy years ago, we killed a hundred or so dogs
learning about insulin. Now insulin sustains 15
million diabetics. I wish the inventive mind could
unravel our animal nature without help like that.
It can't. Maybe someday -- but so far, it can't.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds