'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.

Research Defence Society Goes On the Offensive Against Animal Rights Misinformation

Earlier this month Great Britain’s Research Defence Society launch a campaign to publicize the benefits of medical research with animals and dispel some of the misinformation about that research commonly spread by animal rights activists.

The campaign features 16-year-old Laura Cowell. Cowell suffers from Cystic Fibrosis and Diabetes. Like many cystic fibrosis sufferers, she has to take dozens of pills a day simply to stay alive. Even with enormous advancements made in treating her disease over the past couple decades, Cowell will be lucky to live to 50 without further medical advances. Advances, of course, which animal rights activists are doing everything in their power to prevent.

Cowell told The Guardian (London),

All my life I have been aware of how important this research is. Ever since I can remember I have been taking medicine. So far I have managed to live a fairly normal life. My mum says I should fit cystic fibrosis around my life rather than the other way around. I love animals and I have pets of my own but I owe my life to medical research. Without it I would be dead.

|Mark Matfield|, the director of the Research Defence Society, told The Guardian that it was time more people in the research industry spoke out against the animal rights movement. “There is a real fear about being targeted by the animal rights movement,” Matfield told the newspaper. “There may be risk involved in speaking out, but people like myself, with a high profile . . . should lead by example.”

Matfield has received death threat from animal rights activists and had his car vandalized for speaking out in favor of animal research.

Nancy Rothwell, a researcher at Manchester University, echoes this Matfield’s sentiment, telling The Guardian, “It is important that we are challenged about the research we carry out, but unfortunately the minority who take extreme action, like sending death threats, stifle that debate. We have been too apologetic in this country to make the case, but we have also been frightened because of the threat of physical violence.”

The Research Defence Society has produced a slick, thorough pamphlet about the role of animal research, Understanding Animal Research in Medicine which is available for download as a PDF file from its web site.


Researchers hit back at animal rights activists. Paul Kelso, The Guardian (London), January 16, 2002.

Researchers hit back at animal rights activists. Paul Kelso, The Guardian (London), January 16, 2002. (Note this article is cited twice since The Guardian published two different version of it in two different editions of its paper).

Living proof defends animal research. Mark Henderson, The Times (London), January 16, 2002.

Researchers Succeed in Controlling Cystic Fibrosis in Mice Model

University of Iowa researchers this month published the results of their successful efforts using genetic engineering to prevent Cystic Fibrosis in mice.

Cystic fibrosis is the most common life-threatening genetic disorder in the United States — about 30,000 children and adults are affected by the disease. Due to a genetic mutation, salt does not get transported properly through the cells that line the lungs. This causes a thick build-up of mucus within the lungs and respiratory infections.

Although there have been numerous improvements in treatment for CF over the past couple decades, the median age of death for people with the disease is still around 25.

The new research conducted by Xiaoming Liu and colleagues in Iowa involved mice who received a graft of diseased human lung cells. The mice were then exposed to a virus which was engineered to implant a gene fragment into the diseased lung cells.

The gene fragment fools uses the process which the defective gene uses to create a new protein to slip in a corrected version of the gene in RNA. The mice exposed to the virus saw a 10 percent improvement in lung function which the researchers report was enough to keep the disease under control.

There are still a number of obstacles that will need to be overcome before this sort of approach could be tested in human beings, but it cannot be emphasized enough how animal testing has allowed researchers to make such significant headway into finding a cure for cystic fibrosis only a little over a decade since the gene defect that causes the disease was first discovered.


Gene therapy hope for cystic fibrosis. Jeremy Thomson, Nature, January 4, 2002.

Cloning pioneers consider creating sheep with cystic fibrosis

The team that created a firestorm
of controversy after successfully cloning Dolly the sheep is considering
helping a group of researchers at Edinburgh create a genetically engineered
sheep that has human cystic fibrosis.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic
disease caused when a child receives a specific faulty gene from both
parents. Cystic fibrosis causes a variety of health problems, which tend
to vary from individual to individual, but is marked by severe respiratory
problems. People with cystic fibrosis have mucus secretions that are much
thicker and stickier than normal human mucus secretions, and the thick
secretions can cause severe respiratory problems from difficulty breathing
to higher risk of infection. A lot of advances have been made in extending
the life span of people with cystic fibrosis, but even today only 50%
of those with the disease will survive into their 30s (many of those patients
have to take up to 40 pills a day to prolong their lives).

Scientists have already managed
to create smaller animals, such as mice and rats, with cystic fibrosis,
but nobody has attempted to do so with larger animals. Sheep are a particularly
good candidate for cystic fibrosis research because they have lungs similar
to human lungs, and they tend to suffer from similar respiratory ailments.
The research under consideration would create at least two sheep with
the defective gene and then require breeding those sheep to produce a
sheep with a copy of the defective gene from each parent.

The Edinburgh researchers already
have a gene therapy treatment for cystic fibrosis that has received approval
in Great Britain for testing in normal sheep, and if those experiments
are successful an experiment in sheep that have the human disease would
be the next logical step.


team to create sheep with cystic fibrosis
. The Times (UK), February
8, 2000.

What is cystic
. Michigan State University fact sheet.