Science & Research

PETA president discusses animal pain and suffering

Ingrid Newkirk explores roots of abuse, hardships animals suffer with call for greater empathy

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Pictures of adorable animals filled Barus and Holley 166 Tuesday during a lecture delivered by Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder and president of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Newkirk spoke to an audience of nearly 50 during a lecture hosted by the Brown Vegetarian Society.

Newkirk began her lecture by quoting comedian George Carlin’s definition of animal rights activists. “An animal rights activist — they’re the kind of people that when cockroaches invade their home, they develop a spray that doesn’t kill the cockroach, it just confuses them so they go next door to think things over,” she said to a laughing audience.

To give some context to the animal rights movement, Newkirk drew parallels between the way humans treat animals now and the way humans treated other humans in the past. Tragedies like the Trail of Tears, the Holocaust and tuberculosis testing on orphans arose because people “who those things were inflicted upon were considered ‘others,’” Newkirk said. “They were considered different.”

Part of the problem, Newkirk said, is that humans don’t equate things done to animals with those done to fellow human beings. “If you’re against discrimination, gratuitous violence, against prejudice, then you have to be for animal rights,” Newkirk said.

She  focused not exclusively on what PETA does as an organization, but rather on how people should view animals and enact their ideologies. She spoke of animals’ intelligence, telling stories of how chimpanzees can beat college students at short-term memory computer games and how crows have their own complex language system that uses their wings and beaks.

She also emphasized animals’ empathy, and their ability to feel the same emotions humans feel, including love, pain, loss, fear and shock. “All living beings love their babies,” Newkirk said, while flashing pictures of baby animals with their mothers on the screens behind her. “We need to be in awe of animals.”

In order to effectively communicate the type of treatment she was inveighing against, Newkirk also showed the audience pictures and videos of animals undergoing different procedures. After warning audience members of the videos’ graphic nature, she showed clips of baby calves being separated from their mothers to be slaughtered for veal, rams getting beaten during shearing and Angora rabbits screaming during live plucking of their fur, among others.

Positive steps have been made in the effort to protect animal rights, Newkirk said. She listed examples of accomplishments that happened just in the last year, including the European Union banning Canadian seal pelt imports and Norway banning circuses with animal acts.

“Hopefully (this lecture) inspires people to look at the world and change how they think about things,” said Adam Horowitz ’16, president of BVS and campus representative for PETA. Horowitz said he has been in contact with PETA all year about having someone lecture at Brown, and that he jumped at the opportunity to have Newkirk speak.

“I’m pretty sure BVS won’t get someone as high profile as Newkirk for a while,” he added.

Audience members said they found Newkirk an effective and engaging speaker, and many said they enjoyed her focus on the hardships animals endure rather than on the organization itself.

“I think that point was very salient, that we should be focusing on pain and suffering,” said former BVS member Jason Kirschner ’13. “I think that was perfectly appropriate for what (the event) was advertised for.”

  • johnlonergan

    Would the BVS care to hear an alternative view from us medical device developers in San Francisco? Were we right to develop a percutaneous aortic valve that saves thousands of lives?

    • Jason Kirschner

      Hi John,

      I am a Brown alum and former BVS member who occasionally interacts with the organization on campus. I’d be interested to hear what you have to say on the subject.

      • johnlonergan

        It’s pretty straightforward, really. We balance the lives and the quality of life of our patients to be treated against the sacrificing of animals–in our case, chiefly pigs.

        In each case, we refer to an Ethics Committee with the study/trial plan. The EC weighs the benefits against the loss of animal life, and approves/sends back the study for further elaboration (or declines it).

        The cases I’ve personally been involved with where we’ve used pigs include the development of a new generation of stents, the development of percutaneous aortic heart valves, spinal implants, left atrial appendage (a major cause of strokes), neurovascular devices (hemorrhagic stroke), and so on…altogether over 20 companies I’ve started or invested in for medical devices.

        So, it’s easy for all of us in the abstract to say that “killing animals is wrong,” whether to eat (BVS) or for animal clinical trials prior to human clinical trials.

        As one who’s been in the room, touched the beating heart of a pig, and mourned its passing afterwards, the choice never comes lightly.

  • Just Wandering By

    Why is this story listed under “Science & Research” instead of “Features” or wherever (anti-)social activism belongs?