Tag Archives: Peter Singer

Testing, testing, testing !

100_0214When 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.


Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, food, great days, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

When Elephants Wept and Gorillas danced

Kiwis are not just New Zealanders. They are the a rare and unique breed of bird. And a few weeks ago after heavy rain in the South Island, a kiwi’s nest was threatened by floods pouring through its enclosure. The male and female kiwi had been conscientiously nursing their egg, a precious one, since they are an endangered species.

As the water began surge through, threatening to wash their nest and egg away, the male kiwi sprang into action. He seized twigs and grass and any materials he could find to stuff under the nest to raise it above water level. Outside, conservation staff began digging drainage too.

What this told me is that that kiwi father understood the principles of engineering.  Knowing that by levering his nest up with whatever he could find, he could try to save his offspring. He did.

The week before, I had seen some amazing pictures in an English newspaper. Two gorillas who had been born in a zoo and had grown up together, were parted, when the elder was sent to another zoo for a breeding programme. After three years, coming to the conclusion that the giant black gorilla was infertile, the zoo decided to send him back to join his brother, who during this time had been shuttled off to another zoo.

The pictures were of their re-union. Recognising each other straight away, they ran to each other, making sounds, hugging each other, rolling on the ground together in ecstasy, and dancing with joy.

What this told me is that separating animals and shunting them around to zoos and breeding programmes is as cruel as it was to break up slave families and sell mothers away from their children, and split up fathers and brothers in the days before Abolition. I read many years ago of a woman who decided to make feta cheese, and began breeding a small flock of sheep. As each generation was born, mothers, grannies, great grannies and children all remained in their family groups, and when she banged on the pail each day to gather them in for milking, they came in their family groups.

And yet we take lambs and calves from their mothers all the time, and foals from their mothers to race them as yearlings before their bones have matured, which is why so many young racehorses come to grief. Horses are not fully grown for six to seven years. Treating animals with no regard to their rights is called speciesism, a term coined by Australian philosopher and animal campaigner Peter Singer. He likens it to sexism, and racism.

In March this year, legendary conservationist Lawrence Anthony died in Africa. He was known as ‘The Elephant Whisperer’. He had learned to calm and heal traumatized elephants who were sent to Thula Thula where he lived. The first herd arrived enraged from the death of a mother and her calf. The fifteen year old son of the dead mother charged him and his rangers, trumpeting his rage, his mother and baby sister having been shot in front of his eyes; a heartbreakingly brave teenager, defending his herd.

The traumatised elephants were herded into an enclosure to keep them safe until they were calm enough to move out into the reserve. The huge matriarch gathered her clan, and charged the electric fence, getting an 8,000-volt. She stepped back, and with the family in tow strode round the entire perimeter, checking for vibrations from the electric current. That night, the herd somehow found the generator, trampled it, pulled out the concrete embedded posts like matchsticks, and headed out, in danger from waiting poachers with guns at the ready.

Recaptured, Anthony knew it was only a matter of time before they escaped again. He talked to Nana the huge matriarch, telling her they would be killed if they broke out again. He feared he would be killed too, if he didn’t make a connection with them before they charged him. Momentarily he did feel a spark of connection with Nana, and then decided that the only way he could help them was to live with them and get to know them. And this was the start of many troubled elephants being brought to him for healing.

When Anthony died, there were two elephant herds in the reserve. They hadn’t visited Anthony’s house for eighteen months. But when he died in March, both herds made their way to his house. It would have taken them about twelve hours to make the journey, one herd arriving the day after, and the second a day later. The two herds hung around the house for two days, grieving, and then made their way back into the bush.

Feminist and Fulbright scholar Rabbi Leila Gal Berner is reported as saying… ‘If ever there were a time, when we can truly sense the wondrous ‘interconnectedness of all beings’ it is when we reflect on the elephants of Thula. A man’s heart stops, and hundreds of elephant’s hearts are grieving. This man’s oh-so abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and now, they came to pay loving homage to their friend.’

Some years ago another herd of elephants descended on a herd of antelopes who’d been penned up preparatory to being transplanted to another part of Africa. The rangers saw this herd of elephants bearing down on them and thought they’d come to kill the antelopes. What they did was trample down the enclosure so that the antelopes could escape.

I find all these stories of animals unbearably moving, because they all illustrate intelligence, emotional depths, and extra consciousnesses that man doesn’t possess. We say we are superior because we can reason – didn’t the kiwi reason – because we are self conscious – has that been a blessing or a curse – because we can use tools – but many animals can, as research is now showing us – because we have souls- why are we so sure that animals don’t?

Maybe American writer Henry Beston, who wrote the classic ‘The Outermost House’, put it best when he wrote: ‘We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate in having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they live finished and complete, gifted with extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.’

It seems to me that it’s man who has the splendour of the earth, and animals who have the travail. Maybe, as more and more of us care about them, that will change.


Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The old chap’s 83rd birthday, and some of the family for lunch to celebrate. I made it an easy one, roast chicken breasts for them, stuffed with sausage meat and sage, and wrapped in bacon – all free range and organic. The usual, a big dish for people to help themselves – roasted parsnips, onions, potatoes boiled in their skins, and then slightly crushed with plenty of butter, spring carrots and Brussels sprouts, plus the famous mushrooms in cream, parsley and garlic instead of gravy. Pudding was easy, using the same oven, and on another shelf, I baked some apples, cored and stuffed with spoonfuls of Christmas mincemeat, placed in a dish with cream and whisky poured over. This juice is heavenly. Serve the apples with crème fraiche or ice cream and a little shortbread biscuit. It was good with coffee served at the same time.


Food for Thought

A friend sent me this poem, and I offer it to all my fellow bloggers:

“..a poet/writer is someone

Who can pour light into a spoon

And then raise it

To nourish your parched holy mouth’

Hafez  1315 -1390   Renowned Persian lyric poet


Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, environment, environment, food, great days, life and death, love, philosophy, poetry, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, wild life