When Dr Christian Barnard, world-famous surgeon who invented the first heart transplant, decided to sue me for libel I was both intimidated and exhilarated.
It wasn’t an easy time for us at that point… after eight years of campaigning by my husband for the release of a man wrongly convicted of a double murder, now that he was pardoned, we were embroiled in a Royal Commission and another battle with the police. In the previous eight years we had had our phones tapped, had our letters intercepted, and I awoke one night to find a plain clothes policeman in a grey suit and a stocking over his face at the foot of our bed, rummaging for stuff in my husband’s suit jacket.
Until then I had never locked the front door – so the children could always find their way in! My husband also had a price on his head, a lucrative contract put out by a worldwide drug ring he had been exposing in his newspaper for the last year. They too had penetrated our home when we were away on holiday, and switched off every appliance in the house, leaving a rotting deep freeze amongst other things, as a message to show us that they knew where we lived – even in remote country.
I had told my husband my car had a funny rattle, and when he checked he found that all the nuts on the front wheels had been loosened, so as to cause an accident. The children were frightened to answer the phone. Luckily, the drug barons fell out and ended up murdering each other until the survivors were caught and convicted in England.
During this time I’d resigned from my job as women’s editor through ill health, but had continued to write my weekly column in the newspaper and in a magazine read by over half the (tiny) population. (I only mention this because it was significant)
It was an article about vivisection which had activated Christian Barnard. Among other horrors, I’d quoted his boast about making a two-headed dog to show the Russians he was as clever as them, and the heart-rending shrieks of the baboon when Barnard took his mate to use his heart for an operation. This article resurrected the moribund anti -vivisection society here and my husband and I became president and vice president until it was on its feet again.
The medical establishment were furious, because I’d also called into question every student having their own personal rat to kill by smashing it on the lab desk, and then dissect. A meeting was called at the university where the medical council discussed: “what to do about me”, as someone told me later. They felt that with my wide readership I had too much influence. How to shut me up? They decided to alert Christian Barnard, with the result that he sent writs to my newspaper, Safe (Save Animals From Experimentation), and me.
When I got over the shock of opening this bullying letter demanding a large sum of money (which I didn’t have), or the ordeal of a court case, I was thrilled. Now we could bring vivisection out into the open. Maybe it would become an international scandal, since it involved the world famous surgeon. But to my chagrin, my newspaper paid up and apologised without even discussing it with me, and Safe – by then in other hands – paid up too – all the money going to the Heart Foundation – for more testing on animals, I supposed.
So that left me. I said to the family I’d rather go to prison than pay up if we lost the case. Two big tears oozed from my son’s eyes, as he contemplated his friends at school knowing his mother was in jail…. My solicitor wrote to Barnard’s men and did an unusual thing. He told them what our defence would be – listing Barnard’s boasts as they came straight from a TV interview and his autobiography. We never heard another word. So the vivisection issue just died.
This all happened thirty years ago, and it still goes on all over the world. I refuse to give to cancer appeals as I know that in this country anyway, their research includes testing on animals. I only buy certain brands of make-up – the ones which proclaim that they haven’t been tested on animals. The problem with vivisection is that no so-called scientist is going to talk himself out of a job, so they go on finding fresh ways of researching on animals, and fresh horrible ideas about how to test, and so it never ends.
We know that chimps have roughly ninety eight per cent of the same DNA as us, and we know that animals have a level of intelligence that ranges between that of a two year old and an eight year old – quite apart from their own special intelligences that we know nothing of.
Darwin himself said that animals have all the same emotions as people – they know joy and fear, depression and boredom, pain and happiness. We would never treat a two year old child the way we do animals, we would never think of torturing an eight year old in the name of science. But we have no compunction about doing this to animals.
Peter Singer, the great philosopher and animal rights campaigner who wrote the influential book: ‘Animal Liberation’, refers to this treatment of animals as ‘speciesism’, like sexism and racism. He, like many of us, hopes that by the next generation this sort of discrimination will be as un-acceptable as those other forms of intolerance. Even today, so many people, especially the young, find this discrimination abhorrent. People for Ethical Treatment of Animals – Peta – is doing a great job of raising people’s awareness about the way we treat other creatures..
But there are, of course, a million other ways that man has devised to kill, maim, exploit, work to death and torture most varieties of creatures on this planet, including cutting off the fins of sharks, thus crippling them, and then dropping them back in the sea to drown; destroying the habitats of hundreds of species so they die out anyway, and perpetrating factory farming to name a few.
If we care, we can ‘put our money where our mouth is’ as they say in this country, and find ways of not using anything which is the result of animal testing. There is plenty of research these days to show that there are other effective ways of testing drugs rather than on animals, which is not fail-safe anyway. Thalidomide famously was tested on rabbits and found to be safe for them. But that didn’t make it safe for humans.
A year or so after my brush with Dr Barnard, a South African newspaper quoted him as saying he had given up vivisection. Asked why, he said he had heard the grief in the cries of a baboon for his mate who he had taken for an operation. There are some limits beyond which no civilised human being can go, he said.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
This sauce served with vegetables is one of my favourite meals. I thinly slice a selection of vegetables – pumpkin, kumara/sweet potato, red and yellow peppers, mushrooms, carrots, and either fry them in an electric fry pan, or bake them with olive oil drizzled over them. Meanwhile in a blender I put two cups of good pea-nut butter, a cup of olive oil, two whole lemons, four cloves of garlic , two teasp fish oil, a dessertsp or more of dried thyme, and a tablsp or more of brown sugar, plenty of freshly ground black pepper, and salt.
Whizz everything together, and add more thyme and sugar or salt to taste. If it’s too thick, add some water. I pile the vegetables onto a serving dish, and hand round the sauce. It keeps for a few days in the fridge. It’s delicious with crusty rolls and wine for lunch with the (metaphorical) girls, or for supper for the two of us.
Food for Thought
All of the larger- than-life questions about our presence here on earth and what gifts we have to offer are spiritual questions. To seek answers to these questions is to seek a sacred path.
Lauren Artress, Episcopal priest, counsellor, writer and founder of the Labyrinth spiritual movement. Walking the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral has led to the building and walking of labyrinths all over the world.