In 1875 Lewis Carroll wrote “Some Popular Fallacies About Vivisection” for the publication Fortnightly Review. Carroll was strongly opposed to vivisection, but I think that if he were alive today, he would not have so much of a problem with current animal experimentation procedures.
In “Some Popular Fallacies About Vivisection” Carroll takes several statements used by 19th-century pro-vivisectionists and argues against them. Interestingly, he starts out by saying that the golden mean is somewhere between the statement that vivisection is justifiable and the statement that it is never okay. So already he admits to not being entirely opposed to animal research. What he takes issue with is purposely inflicting pain on animals, not so much killing itself. He gives some examples of cases which he considers over the top examples of avoiding animal deaths, and the first example nicely illustrates how far animal rights have come in the past century. Carroll, who was obviously a fervent supporter of animal rights, believed in 1875 that it was a bit over the top to not kill some puppies if the litter is too big:
“Never may we destroy, for our convenience, some of a litter of puppies—or open a score of oysters when nineteen would have sufficed—or light a candle in a summer evening for mere pleasure, lest some hapless moth should rush to an untimely end! Nay, we must not even take a walk, with the certainty of crushing many an insect in our path, unless for really important business ! Surely all this is childish.”
Several fallacies that Carroll argues against involve the morality of the scientists doing the research. He points out that while they say that it’s necessary to use animals to advance medical research, many scientists actually just do the research to satisfy their own curiosity.
“As one who has himself devoted much time and labour to scientific investigations, I desire to offer the strongest possible protest against this falsely coloured picture [that science is unselfish]. I believe that any branch of science, when taken up by one who has a natural turn for it, will soon become as fascinating as sport to the most ardent sportsman, or as any form of pleasure to the most refined sensualist. “
He does have a point here: curing diseases might be the goal of the research, or at least that is what you write in your grant application, but in the end scientists do the work because they want to do research. But Carroll extends this to wanting to hurt animals, and that’s not the same thing. Maybe “doing research” is a goal in itself rather than a means for the goal of “curing diseases”, but “animal experimentation” is still only a means for the goals of “doing research” or “curing diseases” and not a pursuable goal in itself. Carroll would probably agree that if a scientist had a choice between animal research and non-animal research resulting in the same information, they should choose the option without animals. He also mentions that, despite not supporting vivisection, he is not opposed to legislating it either. (“(…) the risk of legislation increasing the evil is not enough to make all legislation undesirable.”)
If Carroll knew that more than a century later scientists have to go through rigorously monitored procedures to get permission to do anything involving animals, that there are alternatives involving cell cultures, fake animals, or computer modelling to reduce the need for animals in research or teaching to the absolute minumum, that any animals used are better cared for than many pets, and not purposely hurt, would he approve?
I think he would. I think all of his concerns are dealt with, and what’s more: nobody would even dare kill part of a litter of puppies for convenience!