Thursday, February 2, 2012

Insulin and Animal Rights

Since we are discussing animal rights today and next week, I couldn't resist at least mentioning a rather thorny  hiccup in the animal rights agenda: life sustaining medications that were originally discovered through animal testing. What can one say about medications like insulin, without which I personally would have been extinct some years ago? (Personal disclosure: I am a type 1 diabetic and require insulin to live). Some of you may be less familiar with the history of insulin and its original discovery. Below is an excerpt from an article written by Deepinder Brar here:

The biggest breakthrough came in 1921 when Frederick Banting and Charles Best conducted a series of experiments one summer in the laboratory of J.J. R. Macleod at the University of Toronto. Like Minkowski and von Mering, they showed that removing the pancreas from dogs made them diabetic.
Then they went a step further and painstakingly took fluid from healthy dogs' Islets of Langerhans, injected it into the diabetic dogs and restored them to normalcy - for as long as they had the extract.With the help of a biochemist colleague named J. B. Collip, they were then able to extract a reasonably pure formula of insulin from the pancreas of cattle from slaughterhouses.
In January, 1922, a diabetic teenager in a Toronto hospital named Leonard Thompson became the first person to receive an injection of insulin. He improved dramatically, and the news about insulin spread around the world like wildfire. For their work, Banting and Macleod received the Nobel Prize in Medicine the very next year, in 1923. Banting shared his part of the prize money with Best, and Macleod shared his with Collip.
So what to make of this? I shudder to think of the pain inflicted on all of the animals used for their pancreases in order that I and so many other diabetics might live, but at the end of the day I am grateful that it happened. How could I not be? What other cures for terminal illnesses might be found through animal testing alone? I'm not saying I'm pro-animal testing per se, but it is certainly difficult to feel authentic in extolling an animal rights ethic while simultaneously relying on something borne from such a brutal reliance upon animal lives.

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