Animal Rights and Criminal Wrongs

This morning’s Wall Street Journal opinion page features a chilling reminder of why the War on Terror encompasses more than just overseas militants. The FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Terrorists list, it turns out, includes one domestic zealot from the animal rights movement.

Oregon scientist Michael Conn and ethicist James Parker write that the federal fugitive, named Daniel Andreas San Diego, epitomizes the radical view that animals’ lives are more important than those of people. And, they add, al Qaeda has some competition in the bomb-making department:

Like al Qaeda, such extremism is committed to changing public policy by violence and terror. University researchers in California have had their children followed, their cars fire-bombed and their homes vandalized. Researchers in Oregon have had their cars and homes damaged and their families harassed by bullhorn-wielding extremists. And graduate students nationwide were recently threatened by several extremist groups who promised to "target" their attacks at the next generation of scientists.

Unlike al Qaeda, however, animal rights extremists enjoy worrisome public support for their cause. Polls by the Foundation for Biomedical Research show that only about half of Americans support the use of animals in health-related research, down from near-universal support 40 years ago. This decrease has followed massive campaigns by organizations such as PETA and the Humane Society of the United States (which spends only a tiny fraction of its huge budget on animal shelters, with most going to "educational endeavors," according to IRS forms reviewed by the watchdog group HumaneWatch). These campaigns claim that animal research is without value, cruel and unregulated.

Opponents of animal research distribute images that are altered or outdated, even 50 years old in some cases. And they never mention that animal research is regulated and inspected by the federal government. Anyone who hasn't visited a research laboratory is left to assume the worst.

(Click here to read the full essay.)

What makes this op-ed important is not that the authors name-check our HumaneWatch project. It’s not their (correct) observation that very few of the millions of dollars Americans donate to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) directly benefit pet shelters. It’s the recognition that campaigning for equality between people and animals tends to devolve into something culturally extreme, and sometimes explosive.

The concept of animal “rights” affects more than just your freedom to scramble together a sausage and cheese omelet and wash it down with milk. The issue also threatens mankind’s ability to fight dreaded human diseases, improve quality of life for the chronically infirm, and replace despair with modern miracles. When an entire movement says a lab rat’s considerations must be on a par with a sick child's, activism has become extremism.

“[S]omeone who would halt medical advances through bombings,” Conn and Parker conclude, “certainly belongs on our list of public enemies.” They’re right, of course, but halting medical advances through lobbying and propagandizing is just as detestable.

If PETA and HSUS disagree, 11 million U.S. cancer patients and 33 million HIV-positive people worldwide would all like a word with them.