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Should We Experiment on Prisoners?

For several decades, I’ve heard so-called Animal People suggest we experiment on prisoners instead of animals. The argument goes something like this:

They forfeited their right to freedom and their right to vote (during the time imprisoned). They’ve committed crimes and taken from society, and this is their opportunity to give back. No, we don’t want to torture them. We want to use them because it’s more effective than using animals; you don’t have all that cross-species interpretation difficulty. And, you can even make it a volunteer program where if they participate they get early parole or something.

Animals have done nothing to deserve being used as experimental subjects. The prisoners, on the other hand, are in prison for a reason . . .

Let’s deconstruct:

  • Though it’s true that animals have done nothing to deserve being used as experimental subjects, no experimenter would say that animals are being used in order to punish them. They’re being used simply because they’re animals. Punishment has nothing to do with it.
  • A disproportionate number of young males in prison are black (as compared with whites who committed similar crimes), and if the entire system is biased and racist, the system for experimenting would be similarly skewed. More black males would be experimented on than any other group. (This is also not a representative sample of the entire population, if anyone cares about that little detail of protocol.)
  • Clearly, the most important issue is that Animal People are vegans and peace activists (um, isn’t veganism largely based on nonviolence?), and experimenting on people doesn’t exactly jibe with peace advocacy.
  • Finally, if you disagree with the use and abuse of animals by humans, why on Earth would you endorse the use and abuse of humans by humans? If you’re an abolitionist, The Prisoner Suggestion is anathema to your abolition.

Though it might seem like The Prisoner Suggestion is a profoundly bad idea, I actually enlist it, but for the opposite reason than the one above:

  • Assuming I’m dealing with a rational person, when I introduce (not endorse) The Prisoner Suggestion, the person finds using people as subjects unthinkable. And once they do that, I’ve got them right where I want them.
    • After all, regardless of whether someone has done something to forfeit their rights, we would never experiment on them because it’s just not right/moral/ethical.
    • Why then, would it be right/moral/ethical to use animals, when they’ve done nothing to deserve such treatment? (When referred to in this context, it’s impossible to NOT see using them as punishment.)
    • Many people will say, "Because animals aren’t humans." True, true. But with regard to experimentation, how is their experience different from ours? Do they not feel the same pain, terror, social impoverishment, and all the rest? BINGO.

Face it: Most people don’t believe it’s wrong to use animals. But if given a logical progression of statements, many will have no choice but to conclude that it’s wrong. And if it takes appalling them with the idea of using people to get them appalled with the idea of using animals, that’s fine with me.

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