Pamela Anderson, model, actor and animal rights advocate, has broken with popular culture and rejected the ALS ice bucket challenge. Her reason: she believes that animal testing to find cures for diseases like ALS is wrong.
Published on Facebook on Wednesday, August 20, the post shows a photo of Pamela Anderson holding a sign that says “Stop Animal Testing” with a lengthy explanation of Anderson’s reasoning as to why she, as an animal rights supporter, feels that she cannot support the ALS ice bucket challenge:
Anderson is a long-time supporter of PETA and has been particularly outspoken against the fur industry.
Of course, the media has run with this story because Anderson is one of only a handful of celebrities to have turned down the challenge, and the only major celebrity to raise concerns about medical testing on animals.
The commentary at large has been overwhelmingly negative. Many have made personal attacks against Anderson, citing her own plastic surgeries as evidence of her perceived hypocrisy, while others have trivialized her arguments as not worthy of a response. However, Anderson raises some important issues that at the very least deserve attention.
Specifically she draws attention to the fact that animal testing experiments can, indeed must, involve suffering — and many times procedures that, were they carried out on humans, would be classed as nothing less than torture. This is not to be emotive but simply a statement of fact.
There are also a number of studies that have shown that, while many countries have strict regulations on the use of animals,†welfare standards have been disregarded in animal testing (it may seem a cruel irony to have welfare standards, but they are there). In addition, a systematic review of animal testing has shown that publication bias and poor methodologies, as well as a media that is quick to highlight every new drug trial while it is in its infancy, might lead us to believe that animal testing is producing new and better drugs to treat everything from HIV to, yes, even ALS, at a far more consistent and successful rate than is the reality.
However, it would be incorrect to say that animal testing hasn’t given us a number of new, and even life saving treatments. Partly, the reason for this is because the system is set up so that every drug must first be tried on animals before it ever moves on to testing on humans — such is the framework for safely producing human treatments. As such, of course animal testing produces some viable treatments for humans precisely because we have devised a system that means this is often the only avenue by which new drugs can reach the market. It is not the only system, but other technologies still do not give the confidence level or range of testing methods that animal testing provides our medical authorities.
Nevertheless, it is true to say that drugs have arrived on the market after being tested on animals that, indeed, do save lives, from cancer drugs to MS and even ALS treatments that can slow the progression of the disease or at least help reduce its symptoms.
There are two very passionate sides to this argument, but the media has done Anderson a disservice by disregarding out of hand her opinions simply because of who she is.
If there is one criticism to be leveled at Pamela Anderson’s stance (truncated as it was for Facebook and so acknowledging that), it is that while making the case against animal testing, she has fallen prey to the temptation of framing the question incorrectly. The topic at hand is not whether animal testing works, because while its overall success rate is low it does produce results, but whether it is all right to subject other animals to suffering and life-ending tests, thereby reducing their agency to mere tools to be used at our discretion, in order to create treatments that will allow us (and, admittedly, other animals) a healthier, longer life. This is a dividing line in this argument and only after finding which side we are on is there cause to argue the more difficult rest.
But how has the ALS Association responded to Anderson’s concerns? To their credit, the ALS Association has responded with a robust but somewhat sensitive comment, telling The Daily Banter that if givers are concerned about animal testing, they can stipulate that their money should not be used for such research:
Significant advances have been made in ALS and other neurological disorders such as Alzheimerís Disease and Parkinsonís Disease using model systems such as rodents, flies and worms to better understand disease mechanisms and to develop therapies. With advances in technology made possible through research funding from The ALS Association, different approaches to minimize the use of these model systems are being developed. Similar to organizations globally, The ALS Association supports laboratories and scientists that strictly adhere to the guidelines provided by the National Institutes of Health. The Association is committed to honoring donor intent. If a donor is not comfortable with a specific type of research, he or she can stipulate that their dollars not be invested in that particular area.
This commitment, if transparent and properly adhered to (and that’s a big “if”), is one way that those opposed to animal testing can continue to support research into finding cures for diseases that blight the lives of humans and animals, while not contributing to animal suffering. Another is to do as Anderson has urged and support charities that have made an overt commitment to pursuing treatments and cures through means other than animal testing. Readers can find a helpful list of such charities here.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.