"The biological world is a continuum. The eliminate biochemical mechanisms by which we tick are very similar to those in most other organisms. If they weren't, even the food we eat would poison us. Many human diseases and disorders are found in other mammals - which is why we can learn how to treat them by research on animals. Sure, there are differences, as the thalidomide case so tragically demonstrated. But given the choice between testing the toxicity of a new product on animals and not testing, there is no doubt which would be safer.
"Of course, we may ask whether so many new drugs, cosmetics or other products are necessary at all, or whether such proliferation is merely the consequence of the restless innovatory needs of capitalist production. But that is not how the animal activists argue. Instead, they claim that there are alternatives to the use of animals. In some cases this is possible, and research to extend the range of such tests should have a high priority. But for many human diseases, understanding and treatment has demanded the use of animals and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. There is no way, for instance that the biochemical causes of the lethal disease diabetes, or its treatment with insulin, could have been discovered, without experiments on mammals. And we can't use tissue cultures, or bacteria, or plants, to develop and test the treatments needed to alleviate epilepsy, Parkinsonism or manic depression. Anyone who claims otherwise is either dishonest or ignorant.
"Equally, however, no biologist can or should deny the sentience of other large-brained animals. The Cartesian myth - that non-human animals are mere mechanisms, pieces of clockwork whose expressions of pain or suffering are no more than the squeak of a rusty cog - is just that, a myth. It was necessary to the generations of Christian philosophers who, following Descartes, wished to preserve the spiritual uniqueness of 'Man' whilst accepting the hegemony of physics and biology over the rest of nature. And it was convenient to some 19th-century physiologists in absolving them from responsibility for the consequences of their experiments. But if I believed for one moment that my chicks were mere clockwork, I might as well stop working with them at all, and go play with computers instead.
"Unless, of course, I experimented on humans. And this, the privileging of humans, is the nub of the question. Just because we are humans, any discussion of rights must begin with human rights. How far are those rights to be extended - does it even make sense to talk of extending them - to the 'animal kingdom'? The animal kingdom isn't composed only of cats and dogs, mice and monkeys. It includes slugs and lice, wasps and mosquitoes. How far can the concept of right be extended - to not swatting a mosquito that is sucking your blood? To prevent your cat from hunting and killing a rat? Does an ant have as many rights as a gorilla? [...]
"[T]he term speciesism [...] was coined to make the claim that the issue of animal rights is on a par with the struggles for women's rights, or black people's rights, or civil rights. But these human struggles are those in which the oppressed themselves rise up to demand justice and equality, to insist that they are not the objects but the subjects of history.
"Non-human animals cannot conceive or make such a claim, and to insist the terms are parallel is profoundly offensive, the lazy thinking of a privileged group.
"Indeed, it is sometimes hard to avoid the impression that, for some among the animal rights movement, non-human animals take precedence over humans. The movement's absolutism and its seeming openness to members of extreme right-wing groups, reinforce the view that, for many of its activists, there is no automatic relationship between a concern for animal rights and one for human rights. Among others, there is an air of sanctimonious hypocrisy. They may, if they wish, refuse insulin if they are diabetic, L-dopa if they have Parkinsonism, antibiotics or surgical procedures that have been validated on animals before being used with humans - but I deny them any right to impose their personal morality on the rest of suffering humanity.
"Nonetheless, it is essential to listen to the message that the movement carries. Its strength, despite its inchoate ideology, is, I believe, in part a response to the arrogant claim to the domination of nature that western scientific culture drew from its scriptural roots. The animal rights movement is part of widespread romantic reaction to the seemingly cold irrationality of science. Scientists who ignore the strength of this reaction do so at their peril [...]
"The argument about how non-human animals should be treated is at root about how we as humans should behave. It is here that the biological discontinuities between humans and other animals become important. Our concern about how we treat other species springs out of our very humanness, as biologically and socially constructed creatures. We do not expect cats to debate the rights of mice. The issue is not really about animal rights at all, but about the duties that we have just because we are human.
"And I am sure that we do have such duties, to behave kindly to other animals, with the minimum of violence and cruelty, not to damage or take their lives insofar as it can be avoided, just as we have duties to the planet's ecology in general. But those duties are limited by an overriding duty to other humans. I have a much-loved and exceedingly beautiful cat. But if I had to choose between saving her life and that of any human child, I would unhesitatingly choose the child. But I would save my cat at the expense of a fish. And so would the vast majority of people. That is species loyalty - speciesism if you like - and I am proud to be a speciesist." - Steven Rose, "Proud to Be a Speciesist"