A kids’ show explores the contentious issue of using animals to test drugs or conduct research. What they had to say offer a valuable insight into why the issue is so volatile even for adults.
Some issues that stir controversy even among fair-minded people are what I characterize as “settled opinion.” Like the legal term settled law, such issues are well-defined, the partisan positions are well-known and most people are comfortably hunkered down on one side of the other.
Vegetarianism is a classic example. Socially, most of us behave with maturity when a family member announces, “I’m a vegetarian.” Nobody freaks out at the thought of providing a vegetarian option at a dinner party and although the subject still arouses passions on both sides, few people expect or bother to change anyone’s opinion on the subject.
We can argue all we want, but the reality is that the 10 percent or so of the population that embraces (or claims to embrace) a vegetarian diet are, for the most part, either liked or disliked on the basis of personality and character, rather than their dietary choices.
Other issues impacting animal agriculture, however, are far from settled, again using that term in its legal sense. An example is the question of using animals for medical research, scientific study and product safety testing — which, I would argue, represents a continuum of opinion on a scale of “most acceptable” to “least acceptable.”
Ask a teen or tween-ager what they think about vegetarian diet, and you’ll generally get a positive response. But with a few exceptions, it’s typically more of a ho-hum matter these days: Some kids go veggie, others don’t. Fact is, most of that demographic has more pressing issues on their minds.
Not true with the use of animals in research though. That issue stirs passion, debate and controversy, I suspect, because there are genuine controversies involved, issues that are far from settled, even among intelligent and principled people with great expertise in the medical and scientific professions.
A great example was portrayed in “Animal Rights . . . Or Wrong?” a recent episode on Nick News, a kids’ show on the Nickelodeon cable channel. The segment opened with the story of a Raleigh, N.C., girl named Lyvia, a nine-year tomboy, as her father Brian described her, who related in clinical detail how she collapsed back in first grade and was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a disease in which the bone marrow stops functioning. Despite her age, she offered a world-wise perspective on her situation.