First Do No Harm - An Interview with André Menache
André Menache has practiced as a veterinary surgeon and public health officer and has also been a general manager of NOAH, an umbrella organisation of all the animal protection groups in Israel. Among his other appointments was that of President of Doctors and Lawyers for Responsible Medicine (1995-2002). He is currently the scientific adviser to Animal Aid.
Q. For those unaware of your scientific background, you studied Zoology in South Africa; you have also been a Public Health Officer in Israel, and a practicing veterinary surgeon. You qualified without vivisecting on animals, successfully campaigned whilst in Israel to phase out dog laboratories in the training of battlefield paramedics, a procedure whereby dogs are anaesthetised and then used to illustrate some basic anatomical and physiological principles before being euthanased. Can you tell us a little about the strategy of your campaigns and whether you view the progress that you made in Israel as in tandem with the changes that you see in this country, whether we lead the field or are lagging behind in embracing the moral and scientific arguments against vivisection?
A. Success depends on enthusiasm, teamwork and staying power. The use of animals in the military is perhaps one of the 'toughest nuts to crack' because of the veil of national security. In this particular case, the breakthrough occurred when the inventor of the 'Heimlich Manoeuvre' (for choking victims), Henry J Heimlich, MD, was invited to speak on 'future medical research without the use of animals' at a conference in Israel in 1990. During his visit, a meeting was arranged for him to discuss the problem of dog labs with the Chief Medical Officer of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). As a result of that meeting, the IDF officially announced in 1992 that dog labs would no longer be used in the training of battlefield paramedics.
The next challenge is to phase out the use of dogs and pigs in the training of military surgeons - the so-called Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS). According to the US-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), 'the trend away from animal-based training in trauma courses for surgeons is accelerating'. In July 2001, PCRM reported that five medical centers offered ATLS courses using simulators and human cadavers, instead of live animals. Since then, many more sites have begun offering human anatomy-based training. In the UK, no animals are used in ATLS courses. Currently, there is a prohibition on the use of animals to practice surgical techniques (apart from microsurgery). That puts the UK ahead of just about everybody else. But that doesn't mean we should rest on our laurels. A few months ago, there was a call from the Royal College of Surgeons to allow trainees to practice surgery on live animals.
Q. You are quoted as saying that: 'The growing public debate over the use of animals in medical research has largely revolved around the issue of animal rights, with reference to mostly moral and ethical arguments. Having served as President of Doctors and Lawyers for Responsible Medicine in recent years, you are clearly convinced that there is a key role to be played by those within the medical profession itself. Do you believe that the anti-vivisection argument will ultimately be won from this perspective alone? If so, then is it not an indictment of our species, if human self- interest dictates whether vivisection becomes obsolete or no? Furthermore, in the broader framework of animal rights, non ethics-based arguments would surely be self-limiting in many cases where science/logic have no relevance?
A. For radical change to occur in the system, we must get public opinion on our side. And to achieve this, we should use whatever legal means are available to us - whatever works. If it means telling people that it is their health and the health of their children that will suffer if animal experiments are allowed to continue, then so be it. The moral and ethical argument on their own have, so far, not produced the desired result - a total ban on all animal experiments.
We all have something to contribute to the struggle against animal experiments. If every one of us can knock a brick out of the wall of vivisection, then the wall will collapse. The public debate on the issue of vivisection will be won through a combination of scientific and legal arguments, in addition to the moral and ethical approach. We have potentially already won the case from an animal welfare perspective - most people are shocked and angry when they see photographs of animals undergoing invasive experiments in a laboratory. The only thing missing is the knock-out blow, which the scientific and legal arguments should be able to deliver. A good analogy is to imagine the edifice of vivisection as a block of stone, supported by three pillars. The pillars represent pseudoscience, the legal system and the political system. All three currently support vivisection. Knock out any one of the three, and the whole edifice will collapse, like a pack of cards.
The search for grants, academic prestige and career development, all of which takes place on the back of animal experimentation, is represented by the pillar of pseudoscience. Instead of pseudoscience, what society should be getting is real science, which is about helping human beings (and animals) through meaningful, rational research.
The two remaining pillars - the legal and political pillars - support vivisection by making animal experiments a legal requirement for testing human medicines. These legal requirements are based on 50-year-old laws. Science has moved on since then, but alas, our laws have not.
Q. You were involved in securing an amendment to the Helsinki Declaration on medical research, as a result of which it is no longer a prerequisite to perform animal experiments prior to clinical trials involving human beings. In what way - if any - do you believe this has changed the global climate, given that experiments have, for example in this country, been on the increase under the present Labour government - and that there has been a real push to 'up' the profile of vivisection as integral and vital to finding cures for human disease?
A. The Helsinki Declaration is not a legal treaty, but rather a guiding principle. In addition, it voices, and reflects, the opinion of the World Medical Association on the subject of human experimentation. It was originally written in 1964, and contained a paragraph that presumed the use of animal tests before proceeding to clinical trials on humans. Although the Declaration had been amended on several occasions, the paragraph in question remained untouched over the years. However, in 2000, the Declaration was finally amended, allowing non-animal methods to be used, in place of live animals. This represents a symbolic victory, which sends a clear message to scientists and governments alike, that the winds of change are approaching. This success, however small, should encourage us to seek bigger and better amendments in the regulatory sphere. The time is now ripe to call for a public inquiry into the validity of animal experiments.
Q. Given the huge advances that have been made in modern genome technology, why do the majority of the scientific profession shy away from the challenges offered by a more accurate and progressive science? Many scientists and doctors have - after years of basing their diagnostic methods on vivisection - come round to the view that animal experimentation yields nothing of use except occasionally by default. That this methodology is as barbaric as it is inaccurate is not necessarily an issue to many of them, but is the growing evidence that results from animal experiments are unreliable and don't extrapolate well to humans not sufficient incentive to the scientist in pursuit of knowledge? Knowledge is power after all.
A. It is no secret that animal experiments offer the pharmaceutical and other industries the perfect alibi, whenever people get sick after using their products. Real medicine is all about primum non nocere - first do no harm - by making progress in small, careful steps. Instead, the public has been lulled into accepting daring 'leaps of faith' by researchers who extrapolate data from animals to people, invariably with disastrous consequences. Nor should we be fooled into believing that animal cells or genetically modified animals will yield results that are relevant to humans. Science and industry know full well that using human cells and human tissues will provide the most reliable data with respect to humans.
We are often told by pro-vivisectionists that cells alone cannot reveal what happens in an entire living system. But whose living system are they referring to? The living system of the dog is very different to that of the cat. And the living system of a human child is significantly different to that of a human adult, which means that it is no longer acceptable to rely on things that look similar, when it comes to medical research. Once upon a time, we all believed what the pro-vivisectionists told us: 'The heart of a dog is similar to that of a human. Look, it has four chambers and it beats just like our heart'. What they didn't tell us is that a dog's heart has a much better blood supply than a human's, which means they suffer fewer heart attacks than we do. And what they also didn't tell us is that men's and women's hearts are significantly different - some heart drugs are four times more potent in women, compared to men.
The pharmaceutical industry's worst nightmare is that the law be changed to force them to drop all animal tests, in favour of human-based research. Welcome to the 21st century! This is the era of advanced human cell biology. We can now test toxic chemicals using human cell lines and get results within 24-48 hours. If we used rats, we would need to wait up to two years before we could get a result (and then, it would only be relevant to rats!) Industry's biggest fear is that it will not be able to pick and choose the animal species that best suits its aims.
Using only human cells would be far too 'restrictive'. An even bigger worry for industry is the fact that this modern technology is very sensitive - it can pick up early warning signs of damage to the cells by foreign chemicals. This means that the vast majority of chemicals would not reach the market if they were shown to be dangerous to human health and the environment. In fact, many of the toxic chemicals in use today should not have been allowed to reach us in the first place. That would help to explain why the current regulatory system (that relies so heavily on animal testing) to 'protect' public health has resulted in adverse drug reactions becoming the fourth leading cause of death (after heart disease, cancer and stroke).
Q. A leading vivisector at Oxford University is quoted as saying: 'For Cambridge not to have gone ahead was one disaster, and this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back of British bio-medical science'. You yourself have said that: 'The biggest fear of government and animal research scientists, is to lose the battle at Oxford. If the building is stopped and animal research does not go ahead as planned, it could signal a domino effect. First Cambridge, then Oxford, and then the rest of Europe'. Following on so soon from the Cambridge debacle, do you really believe that a permanent cessation of work at the site and thus victory in Oxford for the anti-vivisection movement could mean the rapid decline of vivisection in this country?
A. A victory against Oxford would signal a huge blow against the UK vivisection industry, because of what Oxford represents - the heart of animal-based research in the UK. Another big success coming so close on the heels of Cambridge, would make everyone sit up and take notice - vivisectors and campaigners alike - a double whammy, if you will. Let us not forget Britain's position on the vivisection ladder - together with the French, it is the EU's biggest consumer of animals in laboratory experiments.
Q. Despite persistent demands by anti-vivisectionists for an independent inquiry into the effectiveness of vivisection, the pro-vivisection lobby continually blocks any open debate into the facts surrounding animal experiments. Prior to their election victory in 1997, Tony Blair and New Labour published a document entitled 'New Labour, New Life for Animals' in which they promised a Royal Commission that would look at the effectiveness of vivisection. These were empty words, which never bore fruit. Do you believe the Government and the vivisection industry are worried that if the facts and statistics are made public, they simply won't stand up to close scrutiny? Do you believe that the crude and heavy-handed counter measures adopted to silence opposition to the Oxford laboratory are a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that anti-vivisectionists are finally making themselves heard?
A. All the signs point to the fact that our campaigns are starting to hurt the vivisection industry. Indeed, the draconian measures being employed today by the Government and industry represent the over-reaction of a party on the defense - or better still - in retreat. The media - intentionally, or unintentionally - is also playing its part in accentuating the unlawful activities of a few, while ignoring the decades-old peaceful protests of the majority who oppose animal experiments.
This Government is very adept at punishing 'bad behaviour' (to the point of preventing legitimate freedom of expression). However, it is much less forthcoming when it comes to rewarding 'good behaviour'. After decades of peaceful protest against animal experiments, the very least the Government could have done when it came to power in 1997 was to fulfill its electoral promise of a Royal Commission on this issue. We are now in 2005, with no investigation in sight. Perhaps the Government has unwittingly scored an own goal. Several years ago when asked how best to challenge vivisection, Michael Mansfield, QC, favoured a public inquiry over a Royal Commission. We are therefore now campaigning for such a public inquiry. It is important to realize at the outset that the journey towards a public inquiry is at least as important as the final outcome, because it will raise public awareness. Nor will the staging of a public inquiry mean the end of our protests. Our protests will not cease until vivisection is fully exposed for what it really is - a crime against the animals, and a crime against humanity. Once that aim is achieved, vivisection will be stopped, because society as a whole will no longer tolerate it.
Q. Your active involvement in the anti-vivisection movement in South Africa, Israel and now the UK has meant you have seen a lot of variants in tactics and responses by the opposition. What has really surprised us at SPEAK is the level of duplicity that operates in places like Cambridge and Oxford. Oxford in particular has pro-vivisectionists within the University disseminating the most atrocious misinformation to the public - and not very effectively at that, since they are caught out at every turn. Have you found similar attitudes and modus operandi used in other countries?
A. Vivisection represents a huge industry worldwide. The tactics used by those who stand to gain something from it, are fairly similar across the globe. From our perspective, it is important to challenge animal researchers in public, and on an even footing (eg scientist versus scientist). The stakes are much higher today, because we are gaining ground. We should expect the other side to throw everything it has at us. If we can pull the plug on vivisection in the UK, the result will be huge, because the vivisection industry is so well represented here.
At present, pro-vivisectors are trying to gain public sympathy by threatening to take their research outside the UK. That's OK. They can leave if they want to, but let's not be fooled - no researcher wants to take his or her family to China or Korea to pursue their animal experiments. Our campaign is not about exporting this sort of research to other countries. Our campaign is about showing that animal experimentation is bad science or pseudoscience - irrespective of which institution, or country, it is carried out in. It is time for a public inquiry or any other such transparent and independent investigation that will reveal the truth. And if animal experiments are shown to have no value for human health, then this 'revelation' will apply not only in the UK, but in all countries. So when animal researchers tell us they will take their research elsewhere, our message to them should be: 'you can run, but you can't hide' (from the truth).
Q. In closing, can you tell us what inroads you think the animal rights movement will make in, say, the next decade, and whether we are heading towards a period of dramatic change in the application of medical science, in which animals will no longer have a place?
A. There is no question that animal experiments are on the way out. Compassion, truth and science are all on our side. However, it is up to us to speed things up as much as possible, because the animals cannot wait and human health and the environment are also at risk from the deleterious effects of all the 'tested' chemicals in use today. We can expect all those with a vested interest in animal-based research to try to resist as best they can. Our biggest obstacle is inertia - the same lack of progress that has allowed 50-year-old laws and 150-year-old science to keep animal experiments firmly entrenched in our culture, as well as in our legal, and our political system.
'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing' (Edmund Burke).