Orcas, Dolphins, and Whales: non-human persons and animal rights

With few exceptions, most cultures put homo sapiens at the center or the apex of creation. Humans, it is generally believed, are distinguished from other animals by our self-awareness and our ability to use tools, to think, reason, and construct meaning and representations about life. The Abrahamic religious traditions are most notable in their anthropocentric vision of human purpose in creation; and although the metaphysics and teleology are sometimes challenged by advances in science and technology, the fact remains that human beings remain the paradigmatic case against which other animals or even artificial intelligence is measured. As a Muslim and a theist, I avow my belief in the unique status of humans; however, as someone who also believes in science and is keenly attuned to the environment, I have a great love for nature and the animal world, and a great desire to protect them.

It is with this, then, that I want to propose to put ethics before metaphysics in considering the moral status of what legal scholars and ethicists call “non-human persons.” In particular, I want to look at cetacean intelligence of orcas, dolphins, and whales to understand the way in which we might classify them as non-human persons which would be given certain rights and protections. Doing so, I argue, would enable us to collapse the bifurcations that influences much of Western thought thereby ushering in a more holistic, ecological and relational approach to ethics and being.

To begin with, I would like to make a distinction clear: I am not claiming that orcas, for example, are morally equivalent to humans, but I am suggesting that we ought to be more cautious with regard to understanding our place in the animal world as a whole, particularly as it relates to the precariousness of life itself. My argument below follows philosophical and ethical reasoning, though this might also be understood in the context of religious texts. The story of Yunus (aka Jonah) and the whale is found in both the Bible and the Qur’an. In short, Yunus felt discouraged that the people of Nineveh did not heed his call to worship God, and so he left in anger. Being cast into the sea, followed by being swallowed by the whale, was ostensibly punishment for his loss of hope and leaving the city without God’s permission; though on another level the exegetical scholars point to the fact of his supplication “O Lord! There is no god but you: Glory to you: I was indeed wrong” (Qur’an 21:87) as instructive of submitting to God’s will and the significance of humility. Indeed, the Qur’an goes on to say elsewhere: “Had he not been of those who exalt God, he would certainly have remained inside the whale until the Day of Resurrection.” (Qur’an 37:143-144). The whale, on this reading, is integral to the Abrahamic worldview insofar as it is the manifestation of God’s power and dominion over creation, as well as his lesson to human beings to remain humble. Continue reading

REGISTER NOW! Future Directions for Laboratory Animal Law in the United States

Future Directions for Laboratory Animal Law in the United States
January 26, 2018
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East (2036)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Please join the ILAR Roundtable, the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, and the Animal Law and Policy Program at Harvard Law School for a one-day meeting to discuss the future of animal law.

This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. The workshop will also be webcast and will be accessible to all who are interested. Register now!

This event is cosponsored by the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School; and the Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School. 

REGISTER NOW! Future Directions for Laboratory Animal Law in the United States

Future Directions for Laboratory Animal Law in the United States
January 26, 2018
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East (2036)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Please join the ILAR Roundtable, the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, and the Animal Law and Policy Program at Harvard Law School for a one-day meeting to discuss the future of animal law.

This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. The workshop will also be webcast and will be accessible to all who are interested. Register now!

This event is cosponsored by the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School; and the Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School. 

REGISTER NOW! Future Directions for Laboratory Animal Law in the United States

Future Directions for Laboratory Animal Law in the United States
January 26, 2018
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East (2036)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Please join the ILAR Roundtable, the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, and the Animal Law and Policy Program at Harvard Law School for a one-day meeting to discuss the future of animal law.

This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. The workshop will also be webcast and will be accessible to all who are interested. Register now!

This event is cosponsored by the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School; and the Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School. 

REGISTER NOW! Future Directions for Laboratory Animal Law in the United States

Future Directions for Laboratory Animal Law in the United States
January 26, 2018
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East (2036)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Please join the ILAR Roundtable, the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, and the Animal Law and Policy Program at Harvard Law School for a one-day meeting to discuss the future of animal law.

This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. The workshop will also be webcast and will be accessible to all who are interested. Register now!

This event is cosponsored by the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School; and the Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School. 

Chimeras with benefits? Transplants from bioengineered human/pig donors

By Brad Segal

In January of this year, Cell published a study modestly titled, Interspecies Chimerism with Mammalian Pluripotent Stem Cells. It reports success bioengineering a mostly-pig partly-human embryo. One day before, Nature published a report that scientists had grown (for lack of a better word) a functioning genetically-mouse pancreas within the body of a genetically-modified rat. The latest study raises the likelihood that before long, it will also be scientifically possible to grow human organs within bioengineered pigs.

The implications for transplantation are tremendous. But hold the applause for now. Imagine a chimera with a brain made up of human neurons which expressed human genes. Would organ procurement without consent be okay? That troubling possibility raises  questions about whether manufacturing chimeras with human-like properties for organs is even appropriate in the first place. Here’s what University of Montreal bioethicist Vardit Ravitsky told the Washington Post:

“I think the point of these papers is sort of a proof of principle, showing that what researchers intend to achieve with human-non-human chimeras might be possible … The more you can show that it stands to produce something that will actually save lives … the more we can demonstrate that the benefit is real, tangible and probable — overall it shifts the scale of risk-benefit assessment, potentially in favor of pursuing research and away from those concerns that are more philosophical and conceptual.”

I respectfully disagree. Saving more lives, of course, is good. Basic science is also valuable – even more so if it might translate to the bedside. This line of research, though, is positioned to upend our entire system of transplantation, and so its implications go beyond organ supply. In this post I will argue that to assess this technology’s implications for organ procurement in particular, there is good reason to focus on harms, not benefits. Continue reading

Violations of federal antifraud provisions alleged against two hepatitis B treatment producers

By Wendy S. Salkin

Two investor class-action suits have been filed within days of one another against two different California-based pharmaceutical companies both of which produce hepatitis B treatments, Dynavax Technologies and Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals. The named plaintiffs in both shareholder class-action suits, David Soontjens and Yaki J. Meller, are represented by counsel at Pomerantz, LLP.[1]

Meller v. Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals, Inc., et al., complaint filed (C. D. Cal. Nov. 15, 2016)

On November 15th, named plaintiff Yaki J. Meller filed a Class Action Complaint in the United States District Court for the Central District of California against Pasadena-based Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals, Inc., its President and CEO (Christopher Anzalone), and its CFO (Kenneth Myszkowski). Arrowhead is a biopharmaceutical company that, according to its website, “develops medicines that treat intractable diseases by silencing the genes that cause them.”

Among its clinical stage drugs are ARC-520 and ARC-521, which “are designed to treat chronic hepatitis B virus infection by reducing the expression and release of new viral particles and key viral proteins with the goal of achieving a functional cure.” ARC-520 is the drug at issue. According to the Complaint, Arrowhead knew but failed to disclose that ARC-520 “could be fatal at its higher doses and that the FDA was unlikely to approve the treatment as a result.”[2] In particular, the Complaint alleges that Arrowhead:

made false and/or misleading statements and/or failed to disclose that: (i) the Company’s ARC-520 was unsafe at certain doses and caused deaths in an ongoing primate toxicology study; and (ii) as a result, Arrowhead’s public statements were materially false and misleading at all relevant times.

According to Meller’s Complaint, in so doing, Arrowhead violated Sections 10(b) (“Position Limits and Position Accountability for Security-Based Swaps and Large Trader Reporting.”) and 20(a) (“Liability to contemporaneous traders for insider trading.”) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, “Position Limits and Position Accountability for Security-Based Swaps and Large Trader Reporting” and “Liability to contemporaneous traders for insider trading,” respectively, and Securities and Exchange Commission Rule 10b-5, “Employment of manipulative and deceptive devices.”

Continue reading

A Common Morality?

By Seán Finan

600px-lab_mouse_mg_3244Last week, a patent application in India was refused, apparently on the basis that the invention under review could have been used to counterfeit money. This practice of denying patents on the basis of public policy or morality is almost as old as the practice of granting patents. For example, the State of Monopolies was enacted in England in 1624 to prohibit monopolies where they would be “mischievous to the State”. In many other jurisdictions, patents on food and medicines were prohibited, on the basis that the public good served by these products outweighed any claims of monopoly rights by the inventor. The other approach is preferred in the US. Cases like Diamond v Chakrabarty removed much of the normative question from American patent law and it has been strongly argued that a patent application “is not an ethical event.”

Whether a patent can be refused on the basis of morality is a difficult enough question, but the problem is compounded once the “morality” in question is not confined to a single jurisdiction. The harmonization of patent law across Europe in the last fifty years has forced the European Patent Office (EPO) to consider how to make a moral judgement on behalf of all the contracting states to the European Patent Convention. Its approach has been neither consistent between cases nor consistent with the underlying treaties. I would like to give a quick sketch of the contrast between the European legal framework and its manifestation in the decisions of the EPO.

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TOMORROW (9/30): Non-Human Primates in Research – Legal and Ethical Considerations

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Non-Human Primates in Research: Legal and Ethical Considerations
September 30, 2015, 12:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Room 1010
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA [Map]

Description:

Please join us for a discussion of critical legal, ethical, scientific, and social issues raised by research involving non-human primates, and the research centers that house them.  What does the current regulatory structure require and permit, what gaps exist, what enforcement problems have arisen, and how are they being addressed at Harvard and elsewhere?  How should scientific and medical interests be balanced against the interests of the animals, and how might the ethical and/or regulatory analysis differ depending on the type of primate involved?  What trends are emerging with regard to funding, scientific approaches, and public opinion?  Our panelists will address these questions and others in the course of a lively debate.

Panelists: Continue reading

UPCOMING EVENT (9/30): Non-Human Primates in Research – Legal and Ethical Considerations

 

macaque_focusDzingNon-Human Primates in Research: Legal and Ethical Considerations
September 30, 2015, 12:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Room 1010
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA [Map]

 

Description:

Please join us for a discussion of critical legal, ethical, scientific, and social issues raised by research involving non-human primates, and the research centers that house them.  What does the current regulatory structure require and permit, what gaps exist, what enforcement problems have arisen, and how are they being addressed at Harvard and elsewhere?  How should scientific and medical interests be balanced against the interests of the animals, and how might the ethical and/or regulatory analysis differ depending on the type of primate involved?  What trends are emerging with regard to funding, scientific approaches, and public opinion?  Our panelists will address these questions and others in the course of a lively debate.

Panelists:

  • Hope Ferdowsian, MD, MPH, Adjunct Associate Professor, Georgetown University Medical Center and Adjunct Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine, George Washington University Department of Medicine

This event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided.

Cosponsored by the Animal Law and Policy Program at Harvard Law School.

Whose Business Is It If You Want To Induce a Bee To Sting Your Penis?

Photo source: WikiMedia Commons

By Michelle Meyer

You might think that the answer to this question is obvious. Clearly, it’s your business, and yours alone, right? I mean, sure, maybe it would be considerate to discuss the potential ramifications of this activity with your partner. And you might want to consider the welfare of the bee. But other than that, whose business could it possibly be?

Well, as academic empiricists know, what others can do freely, they often require permission to do. Journalists, for instance, can ask potentially traumatizing questions to children without having to ask whether the risk to these children of interviewing them is justified by the expected knowledge to be gained; academics, by contrast, have to get permission from their institution’s IRB first (and often that permission never comes).

So, too, with potentially traumatizing yourself — at least if you’re an academic who’s trying to induce a bee to sting your penis in order to produce generalizable knowledge, rather than for some, um, other purpose.

Yesterday, science writer Ed Yong reported a fascinating self-experiment conducted by Michael Smith, a Cornell graduate student in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior who studies the behavior and evolution of honeybees. As Ed explains, when, while doing his other research, a honeybee flew up Smith’s shorts and stung his testicles, Smith was surprised to find that it didn’t hurt as much as he expected. He began to wonder which body parts would really smart if they were stung by a bee and was again surprised to learn that there was a gap in the literature on this point. So he decided to conduct an experiment on himself. (In addition to writing about the science of bee stings to the human penis, Ed is also your go-to guy for bat fellatio and cunnilingus, the spiky penises of beetles and spiders, and coral orgies.)

As Ed notes, Smith explains in his recently published paper reporting the results of his experiment, Honey bee sting pain index by body location, that

Cornell University’s Human Research Protection Program does not have a policy regarding researcher self-experimentation, so this research was not subject to review from their offices. The methods do not conflict with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, revised in 1983. The author was the only person stung, was aware of all associated risks therein, gave his consent, and is aware that these results will be made public.

As Ed says, Smith’s paper is “deadpan gold.” But on this point, it’s also wrong. Continue reading

New regulatory pathways and incentives for sustainable antibiotics: Recent European & US Initiatives

By Timo Minssen

Please find attached a ppt presentation on “New regulatory pathways and incentives for sustainable antibiotics: Recent European & US Initiatives” given on March 7, 2014 at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.  The presentation was followed by a discussion moderated by US patent attorney Melissa Hunter-Ensor, Partner at Saul Ewing, Boston.

I started out by emphasizing increasing problems of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) on a global level, providing new statistics and facts. This was followed by a discussion of main reasons for these alarming developments, such as inappropriate use in agriculture and medicine, insufficient precautions, lack of education, climate change, travel behavior, insufficient collaboration and funding of R&D, scientific complexities, and the problem that incentives provided by the traditional innovation system model often fail in the case of antibiotics.

Next the presentation focused on a variety of solution models that could be discussed to fight AMR. These include both conservational and preventive approaches comprising use limitations, increased public awareness, and better hygiene, but also reactive push & pull strategies, such as increased investments, new collaborative models for R&D in antibiotics, prizes, “sui generis” IP-related incentives, regulatory responses and new pathways for approval.

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Peter Singer on Animals and Ethics

Video of the lecture is now available online.

By Chloe Reichel

Last Friday, Princeton ethicist Peter Singer joined Petrie-Flom for a lecture on “Ethics and Animals: Where are we now?” Singer began his talk with a historical look back at various religious and philosophical views of the relationship between humans and animals. He traced the lineage of thought from the view of dominion, which entails the idea that man has been granted free reign over animals by God (first found in Genesis, and also espoused by Aristotle); to the notions developed by Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant, who believed that abuse of animals was not itself morally problematic except to the extent that it may inculcate bad habits in those who practice it; to the early English Utilitarians, who recognized the capacity of animals to suffer; to Charles Darwin, whose groundbreaking theory of evolution muddied previous distinctions between human and non-human animals.

Singer went on to discuss modern views of proper animal treatment. He articulated the prevailing view that humans have some obligations to treat animals well and without cruelty, but that human interests exceed those of animals. Singer then laid out his main principle regarding the treatment of animals—that of equal consideration of interests. In other words, the interests of non-human animals should be considered equally with human interests. To favor human interests over animal interests is a speciesist stance, similar in nature to other –isms, like racism and sexism, and equally morally indefensible, in Singer’s view. Singer carefully noted that while equal consideration of interests would mandate better treatment of many animals, such as those raised as livestock, his principle does not imply that humans and animals should receive the same treatment.

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Are Dogs People?

In a fascinating opinion piece in the New York Times this past weekend, neuroeconomist Gregory Berns writes: “For the past two years, my colleagues and I have been training dogs to go in an M.R.I. scanner — completely awake and unrestrained.  Our goal has been to determine how dogs’ brains work and, even more important, what they think of us humans.  Now, after training and scanning a dozen dogs, my one inescapable conclusion is this: dogs are people, too.”

As Berns explains, his research found a striking similarity between dogs and humans in the structure and function of a part of the brain known as “the caudate nucleus.”  It was previously known that in humans, the caudate plays a key role in positive emotions, including the anticipation of things we enjoy, such as food, love, and money.    What Berns and his colleagues discovered is that in dogs, the caudate is activated when they are exposed to hand signals indicating food, the smells of familiar humans, or the return of their owners.   While Berns emphasizes that these findings do not “prove that dogs love us,” he concludes that “using the M.R.I. to push away the limitations of behaviorism” suggests that dogs have “emotions just like us.”

There is much thought-provoking material to write about in this opinion piece (including the fact that they “treated the dogs as persons,” with consent forms, the right to withdrawal, etc.), but what I want to focus on in this post is the premise that neuroscience can resolve contested questions about the existence of mental states—in animals, or even in humans.

The allure of this use of neuroscience is that it seems to work around a classic philosophical problem known as “the problem of other minds,” which refers to the puzzle of how one knows whether someone or something, other than oneself, has a mind.  Continue reading

“How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Test Tube Meat (and Started Thinking It May Be Immoral NOT to Eat It)” Or “Hooray For Chickie Nobs!!??!!”

If you were watching television this week you may have seen this clip of a taste test for hamburger meat grown in a “test tube” in London discussed here. The meat was grown from stem cells from existing cows used to grow 20,000 strands of tissue. Costing more than $330,000 to make, with funding by google Co-Founder Sergey Brin, the day where this will be available at your grocery store or served at your fast food franchise is far away. But it may come sooner if we conclude that there may be a moral duty to develop and eat this kind of meat rather than animal-grown meat and press our governments to start funding this work. What is the morality of test tube meat consumption?

Sometimes narrative can be a way into ethics so consider this bit from one of my favorite novelists (and Canadian public intellectuals) Margaret Atwood from her novel Oryx and Crake. She imagines a dystopian future that includes the the consumption of “Chickie Knobs” in one scene:

“This is the latest,” said Crake.

What they were looking at was a large bulblike object that seemed to be covered with stippled whitish-yellow skin. Out of it came twenty thick fleshy tubes, and at the end of each tube another bulb was growing.

“What the hell is it?” said Jimmy.

“Those are chickens,” said Crake. “Chicken parts. Just the breasts, on this one. They’ve got ones that specialize in drumsticks too, twelve to a growth unit.

“But there aren’t any heads…”

“That’s the head in the middle,” said the woman. “There’s a mouth opening at the top, they dump nutrients in there. No eyes or beak or anything, they don’t need those.”

To be clear the test tube meat unveiled earlier this week is not a Chickie Nob, it is grown from stem cells rather than being a cow with extra parts and brains missing (Atwood is silent on some characteristics of the Chickie Nob that may matter ethically such as whether it feels pain or is sentient), but I think many will react to the test tube meat the same way: disgust. Some in bioethics, like Leon Kass, think there can be a “Wisdom of Repugnance.” In my own work I have been a persistent skeptic on this theme. For me repugnance and disgust are good and should be cultivated as reactions for that which we deem immoral, but should be broken down and overcome for those things which we conclude are morally worth pursuing. Thus repugnance is a tool whose proper deployment depends on prior moral conclusions. In the case of test tube meat, whatever repugnance we feel is one we should get over and media, government, etc, should help us do so.

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Chimpanzee Research and Animal Rights

Last month, two federal agencies took steps that together may come close to ending research on chimpanzees in the United States.

First, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to list all chimpanzees, including those in captivity, as endangered.   (Currently, only wild chimpanzees are listed as endangered, while captive chimpanzees are listed as threatened).  This would require that almost all research on chimps be done with a permit, and the agency has suggested that these permits may only be granted for research that enhances the propagation or survival of the chimpanzee species.

Second, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) decided that more than 300 of the approximately 360 research chimpanzees that it owns will be retired and moved into sanctuaries.  This decision was based on an Institute of Medicine report finding that most current research on chimpanzees is unnecessary, and that chimps should be used only when public health is on the line, no other animals are appropriate, and ethical experiments on humans are not possible.  On the basis of these findings, the NIH is planning to keep a colony of about 50 chimps available for research that is not possible in any other way.

Comparing these two agency actions raises an interesting question:  In evaluating whether research on chimpanzees is ethical, does it matter whether the beneficiary of the research is the chimpanzee or the human species, and if so, on what grounds?   Continue reading

Art Caplan on GlaxoSmithKline research conduct in China

An article in today’s New York Times explores allegations of improper research practices at GlaxoSmithKline’s research and development center in Shanghai, China. The article quotes Art Caplan in reference to evidence that researchers proceeded with drug trials in humans before animal studies were complete:

“If that’s true, it’s a mortal sin in research requirements,” said Arthur L. Caplan, the head of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center. He served as the chairman of an advisory committee on bioethics at Glaxo from 2005 to 2008. “No one could approve human trials without having that information available, scientifically or ethically. That’s kind of a Rock-of-Gibraltar-sized ethics violation.”

Read the full article here.