For years I have been keeping track of the battle for animal rights in our country, and have been actively involved in it. This struggle has many aspects, and perhaps the most important of them is the constant effort to regulate animal experiments, which by their very nature involve some degree of cruelty.
My commitment to the fate of animals and to their welfare was even further reinforced during the period when I served as environment minister, and for the first time in the history of the state I established a special network in the ministry for the care of all those who are not human beings, but are flesh and blood.
At the time, I was dubbed the "father of the dogs," a nickname that I considered a great compliment, but perhaps some of those people intended to imply that I myself am a type of dog. I hesitantly mention here the words of Mahatma Gandhi, which have already become a cliche - that the morality of a nation is measured by its attitude toward the animals living in its midst; that they too are entitled to rights as citizens. And our country is having difficulty passing this test as well, and perhaps we have to say that it is failing.
I am not one of the rabid fanatics, whose judgment is distorted only by their good will: Unfortunately, we cannot manage without any experimentation on animals. If we agree that a human life is more important than that of a mouse, the mouse will continue to be our replacement for the time being.
But our overall responsibility as human beings who maintain our humanity requires us to limit the experiments to the barest minimum, and to minimize the suffering before, during and after the experiment, insofar as possible. As long as the human race is pursued by incurable diseases, science and research will continue to pursue the cures, and certain experiments have no adequate substitute.
However, now it turns out, according to the report published about two weeks ago by the State Comptroller, that in Israel we don't even make a serious attempt to find the necessary substitutes. I have said a thousand times to the members of the council that supervises the experiments, that they are pretending to be looking for alternatives rather actually making an effort to do so. They were very insulted. After all, they are also kind and merciful people, and each of them even has a dog at home.
What can we do, my friends - the comptroller discovered that your council has only the vaguest idea about the experiments being conducted in the various institutions: Either you don't know, or you don't want to know.
One also gets the impression from the report that you don't really check whether or not there is an alternative to a certain experiment; that for the eight years during which the council has been functioning, you haven't advanced the issue of alternatives by much; that your visits to the experimentation sites are rare, that the supervisory activities are defective, that the documentation of the experiments is partial. In short - you haven't done your job.
Another clear impression that arises from the comptroller's report is that the entire issue of "internal supervisory committees" in the various institutions is dubious. Had the comptroller spoken to me, I would have explained to him that the entire method makes a mockery of the Animal Rights Law (Animal Experiments, 1994).
The internal committees of each institution in itself are committed first and foremost to the institution for which they work. They are composed of its employees. Does anyone know many university researchers who will reject an experiment presented to them by colleagues or supervisors, or those who will be supervisors one day? Here the iron rule works in full force: Today I'll approve an experiment of yours without really checking, because tomorrow you'll have to approve an experiment of mine.
Within these closed clubs, animals are trapped without a savior. Is it any wonder then that the comptroller checked and found an astonishing number of animals that are involved in experiments - about 300,000 in 2002.
This council for supervising animal experiments must be disbanded, it has betrayed our confidence. The "internal committees" must be abolished. They were born in sin. The search for alternatives must be considered a serious national campaign; countries that have made such an effort have been successful - much more so than we have been.
The entire system of experimentation has to emerge from the underground, to be exposed to everyone; there is nothing to hide, and nothing should be hidden.
The researchers and the scientists will only be doing themselves a favor if they open wide the doors to their laboratories, and prove to the entire world that their consciences are quiet about their work, which is designed to save our lives, or at least to improve their quality significantly. This burden of proof is still theirs.
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