'My Daughter Deserves the Chance to Live'

In a recent newsletter, Americans for Medical Progress pointed out a fascinating exchange of letters between an animal rights activist and the mother of a cystic fibrosis patient in the pages of New Scientist.

On March 23, 2002, Chris Nay of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection wrote a letter attacking a recent pro-animal research campaign by the Research Defence Society. That campaign featured 16-year-old Laura Cowell who suffers from cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening genetic disease.

Nay’s attack is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. According to Nay,

. . . the RDS is not the first group to realise the potential of such a “campaign mascot” as an effective though predictable choice in their propaganda war. Indeed, such patronizing campaigns where patients are often portrayed as helpless victims eternally indebted to the tireless philanthropy of the pharmaceuticals industry are nothing new.

Given the propensity for the animal rights movement in general and BUAV in particular to substitute pictures of cute animals to hide their severely deficient critique of medical research, this is absurd.

Moreover the patronizing is done here by Nay. It would of course be better for his group if people whose life literally depends on animal research would just roll over and die without raising any sort of objection. Far from being a “helpless victim,” Cowell came across as a fighter who, unfortunately, has to contend not only with her deadly disease but with an animal rights movement that puts the lives of rats and mice on an equal moral plane with hers.

In fact, Nay is not afraid to put the mice and rats in a morally superior position to Cowell. After saying that he has “to questions the validity of” the claim that Cowell’s life has been extended due to animal research (of course he questions this, but never provides any evidence that it is an inaccurate claim), Nay launches into the heart of the animal rights argument,

The RDS claim that people benefit from vivisection. The BUAV believes people will benefit if vivisection is banned. Either way, it is indisputable that throughout history the oppressor has often benefited from the suffering and exploitation of the oppressed, sometimes substantially. The question the RDS seems unwilling or unable to address is whether it is ever morally acceptable for the strong to ameliorate their suffering by transferring it to the weak.

When Cowell seeks to prolong her life by supporting animal research, she is no different from 17th and 18th century colonialists and slave traders who oppressed others simply to benefit their own position.

Cowell, the cystic fibrosis sufferer, is the oppressor. The animals that have provided key insights into cystic fibrosis, the oppressed.

In a response to Nay, Laura Cowell’s mother Vicky, who chairs Seriously Ill for Medical Research, responded to Nay’s points, writing,

If the life of a child is not more valuable than that of a mouse then there is something very wrong with our society. It is because of ongoing research using transgenic mice with cystic fibrosis that the quality of life for thousands of people like Laura is improving. Scientists will one day find a cure for her condition. Surely she deserves the chance to live — and to live a full and productive life?

You bet she does.


Emotive campaign. Chris Nay, New Scientist, March 23, 2002.

My daughter deserves the chance to live. Vicky Cowell, New Scientist.

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