PETA’s ethics raise grave concerns

With the exception of occasionally dressing my cat in drag, I am generally all for the ethical treatment of animals. When I was young, and more naive, I supported People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Then I realized what PETA’s definition of “ethical” was.

While I can’t accept the lack of differentiation of animal and human life, the passion with which PETA members have advocated the complete equality of all creatures is exceptional, if extreme. However, over the past year PETA-initiated campaigns have gone from merely radical, to radically absurd. In addition, they have sunk so far as to exploit slavery and the Holocaust in promoting their various causes.

PETA’s protest du jour has stooped to an all time low. Using celebrity fronts, including Sir Paul McCartney, they are encouraging the public to boycott the American Cancer Society, the Juvenile Diabetes Association and other groups that sponsor medical research involving animals. It is one thing to protest experimentation on animals. But to malign these organizations, who play an essential and multi-faceted role in combating devastating diseases, is utterly reprehensible.

PETA’s downward spiral is unfortunate because they are such a high profile organization. Besides a few proto-mass-murders, most people would agree that the ethical treatment of animals is a commendable goal. Without knowing exactly what they are supporting, the uninformed public is happy to give money and support to a seemingly respectable cause.

Celebrities compound the misconceptions by eagerly associating their names with the well-being of fuzzy bunnies. Unfortunately, this ignorance may not be so blissful. The infamous “I’d rather go naked than wear fur,” campaign, featuring scantily clad supermodels, backfired when fur came back “in.” Now these models would rather not be reminded of their previous statements while they traipse down the catwalk (wearing fur, of course).

Last October, a similarly poorly conceived campaign was launched in order to garner the support of the previously untapped Christian community. The “Jesus Was a Vegetarian” promotion included a web site and mass mailings to Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, and over 400 other religious leaders. However, biblical scholars immediately refuted the campaign’s premise, citing that all known historical information suggests that Jesus was not a vegetarian. Inexplicably, PETA did not target the neo-Nazi sector with a similar campaign, although Hitler was a confirmed vegetarian.

The depth of absurdity PETA has achieved of late can be summed up in two words: Weinermobile protest. Yes, PETA protesters stalked that peculiar hotdog shaped vehicle as it toured the nation, auditioning adorable children singing the Oscar Mayer tune. The protesters even came up with a bowdlerized version of the hallowed bologna song.

Before I get to the root of my contempt for PETA, I have to share just one more hilarious story. Two weeks ago, PETA requested that a vegetarian version of Spam be made available. Here is one statement included in the letter sent by PETA’s vegetarian campaign coordinator to Hormel (the maker of pop culture’s favorite processed meat product), “Every year, we read about Spam carving contests and the Spam festival, but vegetarians can’t participate.” A true injustice.

But who am I to denounce this group just because I don’t share their beliefs? As far as I am concerned, PETA can champion the cause of animal equality with all the zealous fervor they can muster. But when they liken deplorable human tragedies to meat production they have stepped over the line of decency. Comparing chicken farming to the Holocaust is intolerable. The founder of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, has no problem with such analogies, as she demonstrated when she commented, “Six million Jews died in concentration camps, but 6 billion chickens will die this year in slaughterhouses.” Another popular metaphor equates the abhorrent slavery of blacks with the plight of lab rats. This sickening manipulation of human sympathy mitigates the horror of these human atrocities. PETA seems to have no ethics when it comes to humans.

The latest PETA campaign goes beyond objectionable rhetoric. The group is marshalling celebrity support to encourage a boycott of all charities that sponsor research on animals. These black-balled groups include some of the most prominent and most successful charities, such as the American Cancer Society, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and the American Heart Association. Hollywood backers of the boycott include the aforementioned Beatle, Rue McClanahan (the slutty Golden Girl) and Linda Blair (the vomiting child of Exorcist fame).

The problem I have with this boycott is not the anti-animal research stance. Personally, I feel too much good is achieved from animal research to discard it in favor of rodent well-being. But this is beyond a debate of the pros and cons of animal experimentation. I can not condemn PETA for simply holding a view in opposition to my own. Instead, it is the complete self-defeating negativity of their campaign that is so infuriating.

Organizations exist (e.g. The Center for Animals and Public Policy at Tufts University and the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins University) that promote the improvement of laboratory conditions and the reduction of animal experimentation wherever possible. But PETA refuses to join forces with such groups. Instead, the organization wastes its considerable clout by futilely espousing the most radical stance. A World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences was organized in 1993 to advocate for better laboratory conditions, increased use of anesthetics and non-animal research alternatives. PETA refused to join this discussion. Instead they stood outside, heckling the attendees, calling them “murderers.”

Such tactics achieve nothing for the beloved animals. In the case of the charity boycott, valuable organizations will suffer. These associations do much more than sponsor (necessary) animal-based medical research. They are general advocacy groups that provide a variety of services to the public. The attack on such admirable charities is despicable. It appears that PETA’s fervent support of animal rights has finally overwhelmed their sense of human decency.

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