In his July 20, 2006, column for Foxnews.com, ("PETA: Sacrifice Human, Not Animal Life for Medical Research"), Stephen Milloy blatantly misconstrued and misrepresented PETA's position on embryonic stem cell research.
Mr. Milloy attributed positions to PETA that we do not hold and that he did not, in any way, verify with PETA; he then proceeded to point out supposed inconsistencies and contradictions in these fictional positions.
We at PETA would like to debunk some of the falsehoods to which Mr. Milloy devoted his column.
First, Mr. Milloy states that PETA has been "pummeling...the U.S. government for focusing on evacuating people rather than pets from war-torn Beirut."
In fact, PETA advocates evacuating companion animals with people, not instead of people.
It has been widely reported that during Hurricane Katrina, many people refused to evacuate when they were required to abandon the animals who were a part of their families. According to published reports, some victims may have died because they would not leave their pets.
Forty-four percent of those who did not evacuate during Katrina stayed because of their companion animals, the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reported; an October 2005 Zogby poll found that 49 percent of adults would not evacuate a disaster without their companion animals and 57 percent agreed that official rescue efforts should include companion animals.
In May 2006, the House passed a bill that would require states to include companion animals in evacuation plans. Thus, for the sake of human evacuees, it is crucial that provisions be made for the evacuation of companion animals during the current situation in the Middle East.
However, the bulk of Milloy's article focused on embryonic stem cell research rather than on the issue of animal evacuations. I am a Harvard- and Cambridge-educated scientist, but it doesn't take an Ivy League degree to understand that Milloy's article was based on neither science nor facts.
The only source that Milloy used was a factsheet about stem cells that is available on PETA's Web site. The topic of this factsheet is stem cell use, not embryonic stem cell use, and this is an extremely important distinction.
Stem cells can come from adult tissues as well as from umbilical cords and placentas--in fact, most of PETA's factsheet focuses on stem cell research involving adult tissues and not on the controversial issue of using stem cells from human embryos.
Mr. Milloy characterizes our comments on stem cell research as an endorsement of embryonic stem cell research, which is inaccurate. PETA has no official position regarding this type of research.
Thus, the main thrust of Mr. Milloy's tirade, that "PETA supports ESC research as a way to end animal research," is 100 percent wrong.
Mr. Milloy also falsely asserts that PETA endorses the use of animals in stem cell research as a "compromise" in an effort to end animal testing in the future. While PETA's factsheet acknowledges that "unfortunately, the majority of stem cell research is done on animals," this certainly does not constitute an endorsement of the use of animals in such research. PETA advocates the use of human stem cells harvested from donated human tissue in this research.
The fact that animals in laboratories are unable to consent to laboratory procedures is not the only cause for concern when it comes to animal testing. Scientists are increasingly acknowledging that because there are vast differences among species, animal experimentation is not the best way to study and cure human diseases. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 92 percent of drugs that pass preclinical testing (which is conducted mainly on animals) fail during the human clinical trial phase.
As far back as February, 2004, an article in the British Medical Journal suggested that animal experimentation is an outdated paradigm producing inconsistent and species-specific results, predating the modern molecular era and the tools that are currently available for studying human biology directly-- including genomics, imaging technologies, computer simulations, epidemiological analyses, tissue cultures and biochips.
Tissue cultures and biochips are particularly relevant to stem cell research. Both rely on using human cells from various organs in order to safely predict human-specific responses in vitro. However, it is exceedingly difficult today for researchers to locate consistent sources of human tissue for such experiments.
Many scientists use animal tissue when they would prefer to use human tissue, simply because there is a lack of available human tissue. Stem cells are easier to propagate outside the body than other types of human cells and are able to differentiate into a wide variety of bodily cells, which can be used to study human biology in vitro.
Regardless of one's feelings about the use of animals in laboratories, it is clear to most scientists and laypeople alike that the healthcare systems of the 22nd century will certainly rely more heavily on sophisticated human-relevant technologies than on the outdated assumption that animals are "little humans."
Focusing our healthcare research on human-- and even patient-specific-- biology will result in more cures and treatments with less side-effects. The forward-looking among us are striving to reach that point more quickly for the sake of human health as well as animal welfare.
Sadhana Dhruvakumar is the Director of Medical Testing Issues for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.