A congress is a meeting of people sharing some ideas in
common. Therefore, one could consider superfluous a speech
aiming to persuade an audience which is already persuaded.
However, does that mean that one should keep silent? “In
silence, everything decays,” said Saint Catherine of
Siena six centuries ago. So, I am glad to have come to London
to share with you some ideas and some strategies, designed
to strengthen our movement against vivisection.
Our movement, which calls for an unconditional and total ban
on experimentation on living animals, is being joined by an
increasing number of doctors, veterinarians, biologists, scientists
and medical technicians. This encouraging situation suggests
that the moment has come to do some planning for the future.
First of all, a minor but not irrelevant problem is that of
unifying our terminology. Since our movement produces scientific
arguments against vivisection, I suggest for it the name “Scientific
A second problem, an awkward one indeed, concerns our relations
with some other movements, mainly those called “animal
rightists”. We often recognise in them a tendency to
accept, and even support, the politics of “the three
Rs” – Reduce, Refine, Replace. That means, in
short, accepting experimentation on animals as useful or even
necessary – an approach which we reject resolutely.
However, this is no reason for declaring a sort of “Gulf
War” against these friends of ours.
The proposal of “the three Rs” comes from people
who are sincerely convinced that their politics is in favour
of the animals. To look at the matter optimistically, we shall
gradually progress to reducing and replacing that same gulf
that separates our different approaches to the problem, and
we shall persuade our friends that we are animated by the
same respect towards animals that they claim to have.
Much easier and less embarrassing are our relations with the
vivisectionists. In their case we recognise them without ambiguity
as our declared opponents. Accordingly, I am fully convinced
that we should avoid facing them directly, as in Round Table
conferences or organised debates, especially in the presence
of an audience of non-doctors, for the following reasons:
1. Vivisectionists usually use a strictly technical jargon
in discussion, in order to make things as obscure as possible.
Our constant aim, on the contrary, is to make ourselves clearly
understood by lay people, especially by the young.
2. Vivisectionists stick obstinately to technical details.
An obvious example of this occurred very recently, on 28 February,
It was at a Round Table conference organised by the Ministry
of Social Affairs. The four invited vivisectionists spoke
for 3 hours and 40 minutes, which meant 55 minutes to each
speaker. Evidently they were trying to make the audience collapse
by starvation and drowsiness! They projected hundreds of slides,
unintelligible drawings, mysterious statistical curves and
endless series of numbers. And they obtained what they actually
wanted – to skirt around the basic question, which,
put very simply, is: “Are we justified in considering
animals as experimental models of man?”
Millions of animal exp
eriments are performed every year. It is therefore no wonder
if, once in a while, a few of them coincide with occurrences
which are subsequently observed in man. The coincidence phenomenon
is fairly common in nature. Besides, one should not think
that a wrong conceptual scheme always provides wrong results.
We have a striking example of this in the history of human
thought – the Ptolemaic system.
For over two thousand years, thanks to Ptolemaic cosmography,
solar and lunar eclipses were predicted with astonishing accuracy,
and every day sailors had reason to be grateful to the Ptolemaic
maps for reaching port. Indeed, over the course of two thousand
years the work of the greatest philosophers, mathematicians
and theologians had made the Ptolemaic system into a perfect
sphere of human thought, in which every single tessera of
the mosaic fitted perfectly into place. Nevertheless, the
whole system was wrong, and in fact the entire system was
discarded, without any attempt to spare those details which
had proved to be right or of use. Similarly, the whole method
of experimenting on living creatures, having been shown to
be fallacious, must be discarded. We must also be aware of
the fact that we are not dealing with the occasional dilemma
of “experimenting or not experimenting on animals”,
but that we are striving for a new concept of life, for a
new cultural approach to the existential problems of humanity.
We should not accept provocations such as those often used
by our opponents when they say, for instance: “You should
admit that, at least in the past, animal experimentation has
produced some useful results.”
No, sir! A science which uses an erroneous method is erroneous
at any time, in the past just as in the present. As a matter
of fact, a large part of modern allopathic medicine is erroneous,
as lay people are discovering more and more, every day, and
to their cost.
Our opponents object: “But science has always advanced
by trial and error.” Right, but the error should not
be systematic, and it should not be encouraged by a system
of medicine which is turning into an industry, interested
only in “promoting” itself according to the consumerist
principle of “Let us create illnesses so that we can
cure them, and then cure the illness caused by the cure used
to cure the original illness . . . etc, etc.”
Scientism is a degeneration of science, a religious attitude
which has transformed science into dogma, intolerance and
idolatry. In medicine, scientism promises a mechanistic solution
to all the problems of illness: “A pill for each disease.”
The main consequences of this are twofold:
1. The Medicalisation of Society
A predictable result is the medicalisation of society, with
easily quantifiable economic consequences. Indeed, the recourse
to medicine has reached neurotic peaks, even threatening to
exhaust the entire national income.
2. The Industrialisation of Medicine
The second negative consequence of scientism is the industrialisation
of medicine. The desire for health has been turned into the
need for health – that is, “need” as defined
by industrialised society, which creates “needs”
much beyond individual and collective necessities, in order
to add indefinitely to the two economic pillars of industry:
demand and production. Such a self-promoting mechanism is
unacceptable in medicine, where improving demand means promoting
existing diseases or creating new ones. Indeed, 60 per cent
of all today’s known diseases are of iatrogenic origin,
whilst only three or four decades ago the term “iatrogenic
disease” meant “a disease caused by the incompetence
or carelessness of doctors”. That was considered disgraceful,
however rare its occurrence, and nobody could ever suspect
that one day it could turn into a normally accepted component
of medical praxis.
From Animal to Man
Since no animal species is an experimental model of any other
animal species, in order to investigate some functions and
possible problems of human health, recourse to the only reliable
model of man – that is, man himself – is unavoidable.
This statement is not an extravagant proposal for the future,
but the recognition of an already-existing and well-established
praxis; experimentation on man has been carried out for centuries.
And it is performed principally on the unprotected: prisoners,
children, mature foetuses, the aged, the handicapped, the
starving populations of the Third World. Therefore, the point
is to establish, not whether experimentation on man is legitimate,
but by which methods and within what limits we are justified
in performing it.
One of the major problems is that of testing the efficacy
or the possible toxicity of pharmaceutical drugs. For the
latter, clinical experimentation – that is, experimentation
on man – is requested by law. In a recent meeting in
Rome, I proposed some rules aimed at the strictest protection
of the subject under experimentation. I summarise these as
1. All experimentation should afford a reasonable probability
of helping the subject of it, regardless of any possible extension
of the benefit to the community.
2. The subject should give his/her written consent.
3. The subject should be carefully informed about the aims,
dangers and possible advantages of the experiment.
4. Immediate interruption of the experiment at the request
of the subject should be granted.
5. All experimentation on healthy volunteers should be excluded.
6. Absolute certainty that no other therapeutic or diagnostic
methods are available should be guaranteed.
7. As long as the medical research is contaminated by the
methodological error of experimentation on animals, the researcher
should disregard all data arising from it.
An analysis of the points summarised in the preceding paragraphs
should be evidence that we, the antivivisectionists, perceive
clinical experimentation in a perspective that safeguards
the individual far more than some official recommendations,
such as those of Helsinki (1964) and Tokyo (1975). These lay
stress on the overall objectives of clinical experimentation,
implying that “a collective benefit is worth the sacrifice
of one or even of a few”, a justification which is the
residue of the religio-sacrificial system of thought which
has burdened humanity since the beginning of time and which
ranges from propitiatory immolation on the altar to the condemning
to the stake of witches and heretics – sufferings that
today, just as in the past, are inflicted on Man “for
the betterment of suffering humanity”.
During my speech, the word that has occurred most frequently
is “experimentation”: experimentation on animals,
experimentation on man – experimentation on diseased
humans, experimentation on healthy volunteers.
Well, at the end of my speech I want to pose to you, to the
entire audience, a provocative question: “Do you really
think that medicine is essentially an experimental science?”
If not, then what is medicine?
Medicine is, essentially, a science of observation, in which
experimentation is only a minor part of the medical investigation.
But the worst of it is that this minor part has been contaminated
by a gross error – that of having taken animals as models
Medicine is, I repeat, a science of observation; and, what
is more, medicine is a devotion to the respect for life.
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