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They Didn’t Use Animals

In response to:

Animal Experiments from the June 15, 1989 issue

To the Editors:

In Letters [NYR, June 15], Stephen Rothman takes Peter Singer to task for suggesting that human life is better served by allocating more money to such things as oral fluid rehydration for Third World diarrheas and less money to animal research. Rothman claims that we wouldn’t know about oral fluid rehydration for severe human diarrhea were it not for previous laboratory animal research. Professor Singer explains that Rothman misses the point. The point isn’t all that Rothman misses. He also gets his facts all wrong.

Rothman claims that oral fluid rehydration of Third World diarrheas is a treatment “based on many years of animal experimentation.” To the contrary, in the three seminal papers on oral fluid rehydration for severe human diarrhea there is not a single reference to oral fluid rehydration experiments in laboratory animals with diarrhea. What really happened was that some more-creative-than-average health professionals said to themselves: “Hey, wait a minute. Third World people are dying right and left from diarrheas. And intravenous fluids and fluid administration equipment necessary to save their lives are not affordable. So why not at least try oral fluids, even though we’ve been taught that they aren’t much use in severe diarrhea. Maybe they’ll help.”

Well, oral fluids did help—a lot; tens of thousands of lives have been saved as a result. So Rothman’s example to argue the importance of animal research illustrates precisely the opposite point—Singer’s point: more of the world’s limited medical resources should be allocated to immediate human life-saving efforts and to non-sentient animal research; less resources should be expended on animal research of questionable ethics and dubious value.

Bruce Max Feldmann, D.V.M.
AESOP Veterinary Clinic
Kensington, California

Peter Singer replies:

I am grateful to Dr. Feldmann for taking my critic to task on the factual basis of his claims. There is of course nothing unusual in supporters of animal experimentation exaggerating the alleged benefits of the practice, and since no one can be expert in every field in which animal experimentation is conducted, such claims are often difficult to refute.

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