What Is HSUS' Position on Animal Experimentation?

Animal rights activists
were livid at a letter sent by the Humane Society of the United States outlining its position on animal testing. Back in December,
WARDS executive vice president Joseph S. Venable sent a letter to Martin
L. Stephens, HSUS vice president for animal research, asking HSUS to make
its position on animal experimentation clear. As Venable wrote in his
letter, “Despite your combined efforts, HSUS is still perceived as
an anti-vivisection society. My understanding from discussions with scientists
and research administrators is that there is a great deal of suspicion
of the motives and how this information is to be deciphered … Personally,
I believe the Human Society of the United States must once and for all
make a declaration that animals are needed for biomedical research.”

Stephens responded in early
January with a letter claiming HSUS is not an antivivisection society
and recognizes the need for experimenters to use animals in medical research.
“You may be happy to know,” wrote Stephens, “that we now
acknowledge that biomedical research on animals, has advanced scientific
knowledge and human and animal health. We also acknowledge that scientists
are concerned about the pain and distress and that, indeed, many scientists
want to see the day when animals are no longer used in harmful research.”

WARDS then published the exchange
of letters in its Winter 1999 newsletter, which brought the HSUS’ position
to the attention of animal rights activists who were none too happy. Stephens
then followed up his letter to Wards with yet another letter to animal
rights activists to explain HSUS’ position. Basically Stephens reiterates
that, “HSUS continues to be strongly committed to working towards
the day when animals are no longer used in harmful research.”

In his letter, Stephens specifically attacks the common view held by animal rights activists that medical technologies
developed by research on animals has done nothing to improve human health.
Stephens writes:

However, statement #1 [that “biomedical research, including
research on animals, has advanced biomedical knowledge and human and animal
health”] simply acknowledges that some health benefits have come
from biomedical research, including research on animals. Anyone who denies
that our knowledge of biomedical systems and their function, and our potential
ability to prevent and treat disease is not vastly greater today than
it was 50 years ago is simply ignoring reality. We can argue amongst ourselves
about the relative contributions of different research approaches but
we would prefer to look forward to what might be accomplished in the coming
years and to working to continue the decline in laboratory animal use
that has been going on for the past twenty-five years.

It is gratifying to see HSUS
recognize the obvious, but note that the letters say a lot less than they
appear to at first. Although HSUS now recognizes that research on animals
has improved human health, the statements carefully avoid even the implication
that such experiments were morally justifiable or that current medical
research utilizing animal models is morally justifiable.

This is not surprising since
HSUS vice president Michael Fox wrote in his 1990 book Inhumane Society
that although animal experimentation might have provided useful information
in the past, “it now impedes further significant progress” and toxicity
tests in animals “amount to little more than a public relations campaign
to dispel public concern and, at best, give a false sense of security.”
And, of course, Fox is infamous for his statement that, “The life of an
ant and that of my child should be granted equal consideration.”

There is nothing in
the HSUS letters that contradicts Fox’s statements. Apparently Stephens
hopes researchers will read more meaning into HSUS “new” position than
is really there. As Stephens wrote in his letter answering animal rights
activists concerns about the original letter, this is merely a pragmatic
strategy designed to give HSUS a better chance of realizing its goal of
eliminating animal from medical research sometime within 20 years.


An Open Letter to HSUS. Joseph S. Venable, WARDS, Letter, December 4, 1998.

Reply to Venable letter. Martin L. Stevens, Humane Society of the United States, January 6, 1999.

Letter posted to HSUS mailing list. Martin L. Stephens, Humane Society of the United States, March 30, 1999.

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